Leaner, faster Albert Almora Jr. still fighting for more playing time for Cubs

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Almora says he’s “fueled” for the season.

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Manager Joe Maddon is putting Albert Almora in a can again, and he doesn’t plan to let him out.

“Albert could probably handle more, yes,” Maddon said of the center fielder’s playing time. ‘‘But we’re going to continue to do pretty much what you saw last year in regards to moving guys in and out based on matchups.”

Maddon has been surprised this spring after seeing a leaner, faster Almora show up.

“I didn’t even know it was him running after some fly balls the other day,” an impressed Maddon said. “I said, ‘Who is that?’ ‘It’s Albert.’ I said, ‘Come on.’ ”

Almora, one of the top fielding center fielders in the league, has lost 14 pounds from his end-of-season weight of 200 and said his body fat is down from 16 percent to 11.

“This was probably my first offseason where I got back to the mentality of when I was 16, 17, when I had a lot to prove,” he said. “I worked out twice a day. I was hitting at the end of October. I was fueled. I’m fueled and I’m ready to go.”

Almora added a stretching program to his winter routine, but the big boost came from a pact with his wife after their second child was born.

“We wanted to lose weight and get back into good shape together, so she was cooking all great stuff, and we just created a good habit,” Almora said. “Now we’re just continuing on that path.

“Now I feel everything is working. It’s a great machine that’s just working right now. . . . I feel quick. I feel explosive.”


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If he feels explosive now, wait until he’s facing a few right-handers after going on a weeklong tear.

“He’s going to have a great year,” Maddon said, “but it’s not about that. . . . Based on the structure of the team — and I’ve talked to him about it — he can be playing really well, which he was [last year], and on certain days you’re still going to see a left-hander playing center field. That’s just the way it’s going to be.

“This group has a young core. . . . Everybody needs to be developed.”

Almora broke out last year when he hit .300 for most of the season and earned a career-high 479 at-bats. He also was the Cubs’ leadoff man for long stretches after excelling against left-handers.

Almora knows what he is up against with the Cubs’ mix-and-match approach to most of the lineup.

“My father once gave me great advice: ‘You perform with the bat. You don’t speak vocally about yourself,’ ” he said. “I’ve really taken that to heart. Sometimes as a competitor you fall into that trap where you’re like, ‘I know I can be that.’ You want to be out there.

“I’m just going to go out there and perform, put my head down and run through walls and do whatever I can to help the team.”

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