New Cub Alex Avila steps into big role after Willson Contreras’ injury

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Alex Avila

SAN FRANCISCO — The injury Wednesday to hot-hitting catcher Willson Contreras makes the Cubs’ trade-deadline acquisition of veteran catcher Alex Avila look as big as their deal for left-hander Jose Quintana.

Until that trade July 30 with the Tigers, the Cubs’ backup for Contreras was rookie Victor Caratini, who made his major-league debut in late June.

With Contreras facing the likelihood of more than a month on the disabled list, Avila becomes a critical figure in the Cubs’ efforts to win the National League Central and return to the playoffs.

‘‘I really like what Alex has done,’’ manager Joe Maddon said after the Cubs’ 3-1 loss to the Giants. ‘‘The biggest thing now is going to be [left-hander] Jonny Lester, the involvement of the new catcher with Jon.’’

Lester’s ability to control the running game is linked to his relationship with a personal catcher. He shifted from David Ross, who retired, to the strong-armed Contreras this season.

‘‘I like what Alex has done so far, watching his method behind the plate,’’ Maddon said. ‘‘He’s actually throwing the ball really well, too. There’s a lot to like there.’’

Avila has caught three of the Cubs’ starters since the trade, including right-hander Kyle Hendricks on Wednesday, and said he’s ready.

‘‘I feel comfortable with most of them already,’’ Avila said. ‘‘It usually doesn’t take me too long to feel pretty comfortable with a pitcher back there as far as receiving his balls and getting a feel for how his ball moves.

‘‘And the overall game-planning and everything like that hasn’t been much different than what I’m used to. It’s been a smooth transition so far.’’

Hendricks, right-hander Jake Arrieta and right-hander John Lackey all expressed strong first impressions of Avila.

‘‘Alex and I got more on the same page as it went,’’ said Hendricks, who struggled from the second inning into the fourth with his fastball command. ‘‘It was very comfortable with him, actually, the first time out there. That was a really good positive from today. It’s a good thing we got him.’’

Koji care

The Cubs put veteran right-hander Koji Uehara on the 10-day disabled list because of a stiff neck. Uehara, 42, said he had been dealing with it for several days.

Uehara walked the first batter he faced in the seventh Tuesday, then gave up a single before being pulled from the game. He left the mound with a trainer. The injury isn’t considered to be serious.

‘‘We just want to make sure that we calm it down,’’ Maddon said. ‘‘He’s so important to us moving forward. . . . Looking to play in September and October, we want him to be well.’’

The Cubs recalled right-hander Justin Grimm from Class AAA Iowa to replace Uehara.

This and that

Shortstop Addison Russell, who stayed back in Chicago to rehab his ailing right foot, won’t be ready to return from the disabled list Sunday, his first eligible date. The Cubs aren’t sure if he’ll be ready to return during the homestand that starts Monday.

• The Cubs plan to have Caratini join the team Friday in Phoenix for the start of the series against the Diamondbacks.

Follow me on Twitter @GDubCub.



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