Ben Zobrist comes up empty in first game back, but feeling 100 percent

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Ben Zobrist reacts after grounding out to end the eighth inning Saturday in the Cubs’ 5-3 defeat. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

CINCINNATI — Saturday could have gone down as a great, adventure-filled day for veteran Ben Zobrist.

It began with Zobrist, who went on the disabled list June 13 with swelling in his left wrist, learning the Cubs had activated him. That meant hopping in a car in Knoxville, Tennessee, where he had played a pair of rehab games with the Cubs’ Class AA team, for a four-hour ride to Great American Ball Park.

He arrived too late for batting practice but in time to be called on as a pinch hitter in a key spot in the eighth inning. Alas, with two runners on and two outs, Zobrist was unable to solve Reds closer Raisel Iglesias and grounded out.

Still, he said it was great to be back.

‘‘That’s a great spot to get in there and get an opportunity,’’ Zobrist said. ‘‘I was happy to get back in there. I’m just really excited to be back here, playing baseball again and feeling good.’’

Zobrist went 3-for-6 with two walks in his rehab games. Far more important, his wrist felt better Saturday than it had only a few days before.

‘‘Before I went on the DL, it was getting worse,’’ he said. ‘‘Now, even with playing, it’s getting better.

‘‘It’s hard to play when you’re injured. I tried to do that for a little while. It’s just nice to finally feel healthy.’’

The Cubs also said outfielder Jason Heyward, who has been on the DL since June 19 with an abrasion on the palm of his left hand, will begin a rehab stint Sunday at Class A South Bend.

Outfielder Mark Zagunis was optioned to Class AAA Iowa to make room for Zobrist.

Butler didn’t do it

Like Mike Montgomery the night before, Cubs starting pitcher Eddie Butler rolled through his first three innings. He also made three excellent defensive plays, including picking off leadoff man Billy Hamilton in the first.

But then the wheels fell off in the fourth, which also happened to Montgomery on Friday. Butler got himself into trouble with walks and gave up four runs, the last two scoring on a two-out hit by Reds pitcher Jackson Stephens, who was making his first major-league start.

‘‘I located probably my best fastball of the day to the pitcher, and he hits a six-hopper up the middle,’’ Butler said. ‘‘That’s frustrating.’’

For a player who still is auditioning for a second-half spot in the rotation, it was a setback.

Not supposed to happen

For the first time in their last eight visits to Cincinnati, the Cubs will lose a series. They were 7-2 at Great American Ball Park in 2015, 8-2 in 2016 and 2-1 this season before dropping the first two games of this three-game series.

Follow me on Twitter @SLGreenberg.

Email: sgreenberg@suntimes.com

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