Willson Contreras waved at strike three, ending an at-bat of zero usefulness in a game — and series — filled with disappointment and frustration for the Cubs.
But, hey, at least Contreras was back.
After being out of action since Aug. 9 because of a hamstring injury, Contreras returned in a seventh-inning pinch-hitting role Sunday and received a standing ovation at Wrigley Field. Even after he struck out — with the inevitability of a sweep at the hands of the second-place Brewers hanging in the air — there was at least a lingering reminder that the Cubs would have one of their best players for the 19 games ahead.
Contreras, 25, who has 21 home runs and 70 RBI in 102 games, expects to start behind the plate when the Cubs open a series against the Mets on Tuesday at Wrigley. With the Brewers and Cardinals nipping at the Cubs’ heels — each only two games out of the division lead — a team that hasn’t been hitting will look to its offensive MVP of July and early August to make a difference.
“I feel 100 percent,” Contreras said. “If I’m back, it’s because I’m ready to play.”
The Cubs, though, will be careful with him. Contreras didn’t stay in the game after pinch-hitting. Manager Joe Maddon said Contreras might not play nine innings in any of the next handful of games.
He’ll also be expected to exercise restraint on the basepaths. No one wants to see a repeat of what happened in San Francisco when one of the hardest-playing young talents in baseball suddenly pulled up while digging for first base.
“I just have to see what the situation is and learn from the injury that that’s the price that you pay when you play 110 percent every single day,” he said. “From now on, learn the situation and know when to run hard — and when to not.”
Respect 90? Contreras will be getting something of a pass on that front for a while. The Cubs just want him to respect the hammy.
Up, in — and out
Right-hander Kyle Hendricks (6-5) took the loss, but he delivered his sixth consecutive quality start; it’s the second-longest streak by a Cubs pitcher this season. Since coming off the disabled list in July, he has allowed three or fewer runs in all 10 of his starts.
Alas, his two-seam fastball up and in to Travis Shaw in the sixth inning made a cruel sound as it clanked off a façade in the right-field bleachers.
“Just the wrong fastball,” Hendricks said.
Against the wrong guy and the wrong team at the wrong time.
That won’t leave a mark
Kris Bryant made a rare start in left field and did a whole lot of nothing at the plate. It was the first time in his last 35 starts that he failed to reach base.
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