One last homework assignment for Ben Zobrist before he joins Cubs this weekend
The 2016 World Series MVP is facing pro pitching in simulated-game situations at home in Nashville this week as he prepares to return from nearly four months on personal leave.
NEW YORK — Ben Zobrist, the MVP of the 2016 World Series, is done with minor-league games, but the Cubs still plan to activate him by the end of the weekend and use him in a platoon role during the September stretch drive.
Team president Theo Epstein said Zobrist took simulated ‘‘game at-bats” Tuesday as he continues to work from his home in Nashville, Tennessee, facing pitchers from the organization the Cubs have sent to work with him.
Zobrist, 38, was 7-for-37 (.189) with eight walks in four brief minor-league stops as he returns from a nearly four-month personal leave. He was 1-for-16 (.063) with two walks for Class AAA Iowa.
‘‘His at-bats have been pretty good, and he’s driven the ball,’’ Epstein said. ‘‘The batting average isn’t where you’d want it to be, but I think we have to look beyond that a little bit. It’s such a small sample size.
‘‘He’s in pretty good shape. It’s really just about his timing, being able to be ready for the fastball and also adjust to secondary stuff. So that’s what he’s working on right now against live pitching.’’
Manager Joe Maddon said he expects an initial adrenaline- and emotion-fueled focus and a ‘‘really high level of at-bats’’ when Zobrist returns to the Cubs.
‘‘We still think, utilized the right way and in the right matchups and not asking him to do too much, that he can really help us,’’ Epstein said.
Zobrist has been on unpaid leave since the first week of May to deal with family issues related to his pending divorce. He is expected to be activated after the game Saturday — in time to be playoff-eligible.
First baseman Anthony Rizzo, who hasn’t played since leaving the game Saturday because of pain in the middle of his back, might miss the entire series this week against the Mets, but Epstein said he’s ‘‘not overly concerned’’ he’ll be out longer than a few days.
‘‘But these games are important, so you hate to miss him for a couple of days,’’ said Epstein, who indicated there’s a chance Rizzo might return for the series finale Thursday.
‘‘It’s a situation where you have to be smart for a couple of days to avoid more serious injury that will have him out for a longer period of time.’’
Catcher Willson Contreras, who hasn’t played since injuring his right hamstring Aug. 3, took batting practice on the field for the first time since the injury and caught left-hander Jon Lester’s between-starts bullpen session.
‘‘I think we’re getting there, making a lot of progress,’’ said Epstein, who expects Contreras to start a rehab assignment within the week at Iowa.
Contreras, the National League’s starting catcher in the All-Star Game the last two seasons, is hitting .275 with 19 home runs and an .890 OPS in 87 games during a season in which he has been on the injured list twice.
Cubs catchers are 19-for-81 (.234) with two homers since Contreras was hurt.
Hamels on baby watch
Left-hander Cole Hamels returned home to the San Diego area on paternity leave (three-day maximum) but is expected to make his next scheduled start Saturday against the Brewers at Wrigley Field.
The Cubs recalled reliever James Norwood from Iowa to take Hamels’ place on the roster until he returns.