Cubs manager Joe Maddon: Time to ease hot-hitting Ben Zobrist’s workload
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PHILADELPHIA — And on the seventh day, Ben Zobrist rested.
Whether the Cubs’ eldest statesman will be back in the lineup Monday in Milwaukee after getting Sunday off, the issue might be one of the team’s most important storylines in the last month of the season.
Zobrist has been the Cubs’ best hitter since the All-Star break, but he also is the one most in need of downtime in the final month of the regular season after manager Joe Maddon was forced to lean harder on him the last two weeks than he had all year.
‘‘The fresher we keep Zo, the greater the return we’re going to see for the rest of the month,’’ said Maddon, who plans to sit Zobrist again Monday. ‘‘I think he’s in a good place right now. Today, though, it was just unwise to push him one more day, I thought.’’
Zobrist, who struggled through an injury-hampered 2017 season and was out for two weeks with a back injury in April, has been on an aggressively managed playing schedule to keep him from breaking down the way he did last season.
But as regulars began to fall to injuries during the last month, Zobrist was pressed into almost every-day duty, his defensive versatility a key and his hot hitting a bigger key.
Zobrist, 37, is hitting .361 with 16 extra-base hits and 11 walks since the All-Star break. He has raised his batting average to .310, fourth in the National League entering play Sunday.
‘‘I think he’s hitting that well because we have protected him regarding how often he’s going to play,’’ Maddon said.
How important is that? The last time the Cubs had a healthy, fresh Zobrist in October, he became the World Series most valuable player.
On Saturday, Zobrist started a fourth consecutive day for only the second time this season. The other time was the previous week, when he started five days in a row.
In fact, since Aug. 26 — his last day off — the only game he hadn’t started was Tuesday against the Mets. But he came off the bench to pinch-hit in the seventh inning, played the rest of a game that went 11 innings and finished Wednesday after being suspended by rain and eventually delivered the walk-off hit to win it.
‘‘He looks good,’’ said Maddon, who gets to use an expanded roster and the return of injured regulars to spell Zobrist in the final weeks. ‘‘He’s been playing solid defense, whether it’s at second base or right field.
‘‘I talk to him constantly. He feels good, but I still think it’s wise to keep an eye on him right now.’’
The Cubs, Phillies and umpiring crew were advised after the game Saturday that the rule enforced when umpire Joe West confiscated Phillies pitcher Austin Davis’ scouting notes no longer included such items.
The ‘‘foreign objects’’ rule regarding what a pitcher can have on the mound was relaxed as a result of an in-season meeting of baseball officials — to the surprise of some teams and umps.
‘‘I didn’t understand why it wasn’t permissible,’’ said Maddon, who’s not a fan of the growing trend of players relying on the cheat sheets anyway. ‘‘It’s no big deal.’’