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Cubs president Theo Epstein: Demotion of Albert Almora about every-day at-bats, not mistake-prone play

“We were real clear that the option wasn’t punitive at all; it wasn’t reactive to anything,” Epstein said.

Chicago Cubs v Philadelphia Phillies
Almora has struggled mightily at the plate.
Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — Center fielder Albert Almora could have gotten away with taking an extra day to clear his head or cool his jets.

Instead, less than 24 hours after the Cubs optioned him Friday to Class AAA Iowa — his first demotion since before the 2016 World Series — he was in the lineup for a two-hit night.

His professionalism didn’t go unnoticed.

‘‘That was awesome,’’ Cubs president Theo Epstein said.

Almora, 25, hit .243 in 114 games as a big-leaguer in 2019. His selectivity at the plate has left a lot to be desired, as has his baserunning. There have been too many lapses in concentration.

With the stakes high as the struggling Cubs head into the stretch drive, that last part wasn’t going to cut it.

‘‘But we were real clear that the option wasn’t punitive at all; it wasn’t reactive to anything,’’ Epstein said. ‘‘It was purely that we felt he would benefit from some every-day at-bats to get locked in because we know how much he can help us when he’s feeling good at the plate.

‘‘I thought it was an important statement for him to get [to Iowa] really quick. He knows he’ll be back up Sept. 1.’’

With Zo, you just know

Utility player Ben Zobrist is 38. He has been around the block, seen a few rodeos, knows a thing or two about a thing or two.

Still, he hasn’t played in a major-league game since May 6. His comeback — six hits so far, including two home runs, in 27 at-bats at three minor-league stops — has been encouraging enough for Epstein.

That’s because if Zobrist says he can do something, his bosses figure it must be true.

‘‘The fact that he was so thoughtful about it, that he came to the determination that he could pull this off if everything went the right way, that gave me all the assurance we needed,’’ Epstein said.

Expect a similar week for Zobrist — a few games on after a few games off — as he ramps up to a call-up at the end of the month.

This and that

Closer Craig Kimbrel was activated from the 10-day injured list after recovering from inflammation in his right knee and got the first two outs of the ninth inning of the Cubs’ 7-1 victory against the Pirates. He allowed a leadoff homer to Starling Marte and hit a batter before striking out the next two batters.

The Cubs also optioned right-hander Duane Underwood Jr. to Iowa and recalled outfielder Mark Zagunis, who served as their 26th man.

• Catcher Willson Contreras is feeling no pain or discomfort in his right hamstring, which he injured Aug. 3. From here, he’ll focus on building up strength and stamina.