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Cubs call up backup catcher Gimenez, send Caratini down for playing time

The Cubs called up Chris Gimenez to back up Willson Contreras. | Matt York/AP

The Cubs could make a splashy move this summer and land a big name such as Manny Machado to drive in runs and fuel World Series dreams in Wrigleyville.

Even though team president Theo Epstein swatted away those rumors Friday, the Cubs took a smaller, more realistic step Saturday to improve the team now with an eye toward the future.

They called up catcher Chris Gimenez from Class AAA and optioned Victor Caratini to Iowa.

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Gimenez provides a key veteran presence, having spent time with the Indians, Rangers, Rays, Twins and Mariners before joining the Cubs as a free agent in January. Gimenez, 35, has spent nine years in the majors, including a pair of postseasons in 2015 and 2017.

“Any day you get to spend up here is a blessing, and I’m just thankful for it,” Gimenez said. “I’m excited to do whatever the heck they want me to do. I’ll be a cheerleader.”

Gimenez also has a history of catching Yu Darvish, who has struggled to find his form since signing a six-year, $126 million contract in February. They were teammates with the Rangers in 2014-15.

Manager Joe Maddon insisted that the roster move had nothing to do with aiding Darvish, who went on the 10-day disabled list with tendinitis in his right triceps. Maddon said the goal was purely to get Caratini more playing time to support his development.

“Not playing Caratini enough really bums me out,” Maddon said. “It bothers me a lot. And he needs to play. We got to get him out playing again.”

The Cubs had to promote Gimenez or offer him his release by Friday because of an out in his contract. To make room on the 40-man roster, the Cubs designated infielder Efren Navarro for assignment.

Gimenez said he hasn’t discussed the possibility of catching Darvish.

“I’m here for moral support more than anything,” Gimenez said. “If that’s what they want, that’s great. I’m here to help and do whatever the heck they want me to do.”

Scouting Alzolay

Gimenez has had nothing but praise for top prospect Adbert Alzolay, a right-hander at Class AAA Iowa.

Alzolay has struggled in his last four starts, allowing 17 earned runs in 18⅔ innings. But Gimenez believes the 23-year-old has major potential.

“That’s a special human being there, my goodness,” Gimenez raved. “Tremendous young man. Very personable kid. Works his tail off, no doubt about that. I think we can see the arm is electric. Now it’s just a little more of a consistency thing and cleaning up some things mechanically.”

Gimenez typically has been the designated hitter when Alzolay starts, but he has caught Alzolay once this season.

“I think he’s really about to kind of explode,” Gimenez said. “Because he’s chomping at the bit to get up here. And if it wasn’t for a little rain, we probably would have already seen him. I would expect it to be fairly soon because he’s a special kid.”