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Addison Russell returns from minors to shore up Cubs’ middle-infield depth

Russell will start at second Saturday in Pittsburgh. The Cubs optioned their best defensive center fielder, Albert Almora Jr., to Iowa to make room for Russell on the roster.

Chicago Cubs v San Francisco Giants
Russell trying to turn a double play in San Francisco, two days before his demotion last month.
Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

PITTSBURGH — Call it a day late and two outs short.

A few hours after their most devastating loss of the season in Philadelphia, the Cubs recalled infielder Addison Russell from Class AAA Iowa to help shore up a bench that failed them in a disastrous ninth inning Thursday.

‘‘It was frustrating from a front-office standpoint, but we were actually kind of getting things in motion to get Addy here anyway,’’ general manager Jed Hoyer said. ‘‘And not having [shortstop] Javy [Baez] in that game, it was just kind of bad luck.’’

With Baez sidelined Thursday because of a flu bug, the Cubs were forced to start below-average fielder David Bote, who botched a one-out hopper in the ninth to start the Phillies’ six-run rally.

Russell was in play for a possible start at short Friday until Baez was cleared and back at his position. Russell, a former All-Star shortstop, will start at second Saturday, manager Joe Maddon said.

‘‘I’m glad I’m here,’’ said Russell, who went 17-for-51 (.333) with four home runs and a 1.060 OPS in his 15-game demotion. ‘‘If I can help in any way, I’m happy to do it.’’

Russell was sent down last month after his performance bottomed out physical and mentally. That included missing signs he admitted he didn’t know.

‘‘We’re definitely getting better in that aspect of my game,’’ Russell said. ‘‘As far as the signs, that’s something that I need to come here and get more familiar with, as well.’’

Russell, whose roller-coaster season began with him serving the final 28 games of a domestic-violence suspension, said he was ‘‘pretty devastated’’ when he was sent back out last month but considers the three weeks at Iowa positive in retrospect.

‘‘I just wanted to come back a better ballplayer; that’s what I did,’’ he said. ‘‘I was there on a mission to play but also to get better at different aspects of my game.’’

Almora optioned

To make room for Russell on the roster, the Cubs optioned Albert Almora Jr., their best defensive center fielder, to Iowa. He has struggled for most of the season and lost more playing time recently with the Cubs’ acquisition of outfielder Nick Castellanos.

‘‘It’s never a perfect world,’’ Hoyer said when asked about taking from the outfield defense to help the infield defense. ‘‘There’s always tradeoffs with everything you do. This year’s been a bit of a struggle for [Almora], and getting every-day at-bats at Iowa before Sept. 1, I think, is a good thing.

‘‘There’s going to be a bunch of games in September that we’re going to need him.’’

Bullpen news

As expected, the Cubs activated setup man Brandon Kintzler (chest muscle) from the injured list and optioned reliever James Norwood to Iowa.

Kintzler was pressed into service in the ninth and took the loss, walking three batters (one intentionally) and allowing the winning single to Kevin Newman in a third of an inning in the Cubs’ 3-2 loss.

Closer Craig Kimbrel (knee) and team officials were discussing whether he would make a rehab appearance or return from the injured list and get back to his role in the next day or two.

But the bigger bullpen issue involved longtime setup man Pedro Strop, whose monthslong struggles included a two-batter role in the nightmare ninth Thursday.

‘‘Everything’s fine; I’m fine,’’ Strop said when asked how he was physically and where his confidence level was.

‘‘Obviously, this year hasn’t gone as he hoped or we hoped,’’ Hoyer said the day after the only fastball Strop threw among nine pitches hit Rhys Hoskins to set the stage for Bryce Harper’s winning grand slam. ‘‘It’s important that we get Kintzler back, and it’s important that we get Kimbrel and [setup man Steve] Cishek back healthy. And then it’s also important that we get [Strop] back to wiping out righties.’’

Cishek (hip) will throw another bullpen session Saturday with an eye toward returning Tuesday.