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Chicago Cubs’ Addison Russell celebrates after his grand slam against the Cleveland Indians during the third inning of Game 6 of the Major League Baseball World Series Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2016, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Stiff necks and backs bear watching as Cubs near roster decisions

SHARE Stiff necks and backs bear watching as Cubs near roster decisions
SHARE Stiff necks and backs bear watching as Cubs near roster decisions

MESA, Ariz. — When Albert -Almora Jr. left the game Friday after three innings because of tightness in his neck, he joined shortstop Addison Russell — a late scratch because of a stiff back — in the trainer’s room.

And the Cubs got a sudden reminder of just how little time is left before the season opener

April 2 in St. Louis, and of the baseball truism manager Joe Maddon has raised on an almost weekly -basis when talking about playing time and job battles.

“It’s unfortunate, but the game really does have a way of dictating what you can do just based on injury sometimes,” he said.

Almora didn’t appear to be seriously hurt after trying to make a diving catch in the third. He was examined by the trainer and cleared to travel to a split-squad game in Las Vegas.

Russell’s soreness also was no cause for concern, and Maddon expected him back in the lineup early next week.

And Ben Zobrist, who has missed the last three games because of a stiff neck, could be back Saturday or Sunday, Maddon said.

The Cubs have enough depth to weather almost any storm.

But even the minor, short-term tweaks and tightness issues get bigger as roster-decision time gets closer.

In Zobrist, Russell and Almora, the Cubs have a World Series MVP, an All-Star shortstop and a Gold Glove-caliber center fielder trying to recover for an opener with temperatures expected to be in the 50s with a 60 percent chance of rain.

A shorter disabled list that goes into effect this year (10 days instead of 15) could make it an easier call to start a player on the DL with something minor.

That’s not expected to be the case at this point.

But a scenario like that would put off the decision for the final bench spot — between outfielder Matt Szczur and infielder Tommy La Stella.

It also would potentially create an every-day role to start the season for infielder Javy Baez, the celebrated postseason regular who entered camp back in a utility role despite being the team’s best defensive player.

On the pitching side, left-handed reliever Brian Duensing returned from a back issue to pitch an inning. He plans to pitch again Sunday.

His health, and the continued health of the rest of the pitching staff, all but assures a 13-man staff to open the season, creating the short bench and the choice between Szczur and La Stella.

NOTE:Left fielder Kyle Schwarber, who’s considered the third/emergency catcher after losing almost all of last year to a knee injury, caught four innings in a minor-league game Friday. It was his first game action behind the plate this spring.

He said he felt fine but had a few timing issues, calling it “just a normal day catching.” Schwarber, who had no opportunities to throw to bases in the game, expects to catch in one more game before the season starts.

Follow me on Twitter @GDubCub.

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com

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