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Cubs’ Contreras more comfortable, confident with versatile role

Willson Contreras breaks his bat hitting in the 2nd inning against the Texas Rangers at Wrigley Field on Friday. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

If Willson Contreras had his druthers, he would be an everyday major league catcher.

But as part of a Cubs lineup in which parts – and positions – are interchangeable, Contreras has found himself moving around.

After catching Kyle Hendricks in Friday’s 6-0 win over the Rangers, Contreras was placed in left field for Saturday’s game. Much like with Kyle Schwarber last season, manager Joe Maddon has moved his catchers around the field.

Maddon said Saturday morning, much of moving them around is to keep their legs from taking a beating.

But with Contreras, who is hitting .294 with five home run and 16 RBI in 24 games with the Cubs, changing his routine is also about keeping his bat in the lineup.

And if that means being in the field rather than on the bench, that’s just fine with Contreras.

“I always said that once I got here (to the major leagues), I came here to play everywhere to help my team,” Contreras said Saturday. “If I have to play left field, right field, I will play. It doesn’t matter to me. I just want to play.”

Even on days when he’s not catching, Contreras is still working on the position as well as continuing to develop relationships with Cubs’ pitchers. Before Saturday’s game, Contreras caught a Jake Arietta side session.

Maddon said he has been pairing Contreras with his starters since spring training, knowing that the time when Contreras would be called up would happen at some point. Even with the short time Contreras has been with the Cubs, Maddon has seen the comfort between the rookie and veterans like Arrieta and others grow.

Contreras has as well. Even though he has had to deal with a quicker game than he was used to at Class AAA Iowa, Contreras is gradually becoming more comfortable with being at the big-league level.

“When I first got here, I felt a little bit uncomfortable because I didn’t know all my pitchers,” he said. “But now, I feel like (it’s better) even though I’ve only been here a month. I hope to be here for a lot of years and help my team win games.”

For Maddon, that means picking and choosing when and where Contreras plays. He said playing catchers in a different position is similar to giving them a day off just because their body isn’t taking a beating.

While Contreras continues to build confidence behind the plate and develop more comfort with Cubs’ pitchers, Maddon will continue to monitor how much he plays Contreras at his natural position.

“Overall, I want him to catch, but not too much just to beat him,” Maddon said. “I don’t want to do that.”

For Contreras, that will mean adjusting to days spent in the outfield, where he has already learned how the infamous Wrigley winds can impact how he goes about doing his job. But like with everything else at this level, Contreras is continuing to learn on a daily basis.

Playing in the outfield just adds to the learning curve.

“It’s a little difficult to catch a fly ball here because you don’t know where the wind is going to blow,” he said. “So you have to be careful.”

Folow me on Twitter @JeffArnold_.