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With Zobrist’s return not imminent, Cubs could be buyers at deadline

Cubs notebook: Maddon has no clear sense when Zobrist will be back.

The Cubs’ Robel Garcia
    Chicago Cubs’ Robel Garcia (16) slides safely into home plate against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the fourth inning of a baseball game, Sunday, July, 14, 2019, in Chicago.    
David Banks/AP

Ben Zobrist’s No. 18 jersey hangs next to his locker in the Cubs’ clubhouse.

The white shirt with blue pinstripes is cleaned and pressed. It has not been worn since May 6, when Zobrist played his last game before stepping away from the team because of personal reasons.

Now, with the trade deadline less than three weeks away, the Cubs could look to fill his void.

“I think our starting pitching’s in good shape,” manager Joe Maddon said Sunday before the Cubs swept the Pirates. “I think our bullpen’s in good shape. Overall, if you could just maybe add that element where one more consistent bat, a real pro at-bat — we’re missing Zobrist. That’s a perfect guy, but he’s not here anytime soon.

“[Zobrist] fits into what we’re doing so well. We miss that.”

The Cubs have not ruled out a possible return for Zobrist, but nothing is imminent. The 38-year-old has not seen live pitching for more than two months and likely would need to go to the minor leagues to get his timing back.

Maddon praised Zobrist for his ability to work counts and almost never expand his strike zone. He said the Cubs could benefit from another hitter with similar traits.

“We have guys that work the pro at-bat; I’m not saying we don’t,” Maddon said. “But something like that could be very advantageous.”

All is quiet

Maddon said he had no clear sense as to when or whether Zobrist would return.

“I have not texted [Zobrist] in a while; I really need to do that,” Maddon said. “I’ve been relying on Theo [Epstein] to carry on that conversation. But I have no inkling as to when it would happen except that Zobrist made it apparent that he’d like to be able to do that.

“But I don’t know where he’s at mentally right now with everything else that’s going on. It could have changed, too.”

Staying positive

The Cubs hoped Daniel Descalso would provide a steady bat off the bench when they signed him during the offseason.

But Descalso has struggled badly, hitting .185 with two home runs and 15 RBI in 70 games.

Maddon reiterated his confidence in the veteran but admitted that it will be difficult to find at-bats for him.

“I know he’s frustrated, but he really deals with it well,” Maddon said. “I don’t know when the breakout period’s going to come. You look back to spring training, he looked great. You look to the first part of the season, he looked great. And then he got hurt a little bit, he came back and he just wasn’t quite the same. But the guy’s a professional.”

Contreras rests

Willson Contreras sat out because of a sore foot and might sit again Monday against the Reds, Maddon said.

Victor Caratini started at catcher in the series finale and went 2-for-3 with an RBI.

“[Contreras is] feeling a lot better today,” Maddon said. “[He could] play if we absolutely needed to have him play, but rest him today and maybe rest him tomorrow. It could have been part of a shoe switch that he had done. We’ll just play it day by day.”