The Cubs on Thursday activated suspended shortstop Addison Russell from the restricted list and optioned him to Class AAA Iowa, where he’s expected to continue playing at least for the next week or two.
The Cubs informed Russell on Tuesday of the coming move, which team officials described as a “baseball decision” intended to allow him a more spring-like length of game action to prepare for the rest of the season.
The move also means the Cubs sidestep the potential distraction of Russell’s controversial return from a domestic violence suspension during a weekend home series against the Cardinals that includes a national Sunday night broadcast.
Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo downplayed the idea that players might benefit from the possible media spectacle of Russell’s return being pushed back, perhaps to the May 14-19 road trip.
“It’s going to be a story no matter what, so whenever he gets called up, it doesn’t matter who we’re playing,” Rizzo said.
After serving 12 games of his 40-game suspension last season, Russell returned to the clubhouse for six weeks of spring training, rebuilding relationships in some cases and largely being accepted back into group as he continued off-the-field therapy that remains ongoing.
“From what I’ve heard Addy’s accepted [the move to the minors] well, and he’ll be ready whenever his time’s called,” Rizzo said.
The Cubs say Russell will split time between shortstop and second base while in the minors, and the expectation is he’ll primarily play second if/when he returns, with Javy Baez remaining the Cubs’ starting shortstop.
To make room on the 40-man roster the Cubs transferred closer Brandon Morrow (elbow) to the 60-day injured list.
Hendricks: Contract not issue
Maybe getting home this weekend makes a difference for Kyle Hendricks after a rough start to his season. Maybe seeing a familiar opponent is the difference maker.
But one thing the right-hander seems certain hasn’t impacted the way his season has gone is that $55.5-million contract extension he signed just before the team broke camp in spring training.
“That doesn’t have an effect at all,” said Hendricks, who has four losses and a 5.33 ERA five starts into the season – with a seven-inning scoreless start two weeks ago making the numbers look that good.
“It’s made it easier in a lot of ways, because all the focus is on baseball, baseball and the winning,” said Hendricks, who starts the Cubs series opener Friday against the Cardinals.
Many players who sign big contracts, including Cubs ace Jon Lester four years ago, admit to pressing or trying to do too much soon after signing a first big multiyear deal.
But in this case, “It helps,” Hendricks said, “that this is the only thing I’m doing, and it just needs to get a little better. … I think it’s really close.”
Notes: The Cubs had seven scheduled days off during the first five weeks of the season. They have one over the next 27 days. … Carl Edwards Jr. pitched a 1-2-3 eighth inning, with two strikeouts, to earn a victory for AAA Iowa on Thursday. In seven innings since last month’s demotion, he has seven strikeouts, two walks and a 2.57 ERA.