PITTSBURGH — Cubs infielder Addison Russell was back in the starting lineup Thursday at PNC Park for the first time since getting beaned Sept. 8, four years and five months after he made his big-league debut in the same place.
Manager Joe Maddon sat his regulars the day after the Cubs were eliminated from playoff contention, which might say all that’s left to say about the kind of season Russell has had, not to mention his status with the team.
A season that started with Russell serving the final 28 games of a domestic-violence suspension is about to end with him staring at the likelihood he’s in his final week with an organization on the brink of major offseason changes.
A vocal core of Cubs fans will say it’s at least a year too late, and Russell, 25, has received that message loud and clear from fans in almost every ballpark he has played in this season.
If anything has sunk in with Russell through ongoing counseling since the abuse of his ex-wife, it seems to be the gravity of his past actions, especially in the context of a game he plays for a living.
‘‘It’s nothing to take lightly,’’ he said in a conversation last weekend about the road he has traveled in the last year and where it might lead him. ‘‘It’s actually really cool to see how far I have matured since my rookie year till now. I see the strength in me. That’s going to push me.’’
He also said this: ‘‘I enjoy being here. I still enjoy the fan base.’’
‘‘Absolutely,’’ he said. ‘‘I mean, I still get good stuff from the fans. All that stuff blocks out the negative; I don’t even hear the negative. It’s still a great place to show up and go to work every single day.’’
As the Cubs wind down the final meaningless days of the season, the player who in some views came to symbolize much of what was wrong with the team remains compliant with the strict off-the-field terms of his on-the-field employment.
He said the negative stuff being said about him drives him ‘‘because no one’s going to tell me how I am,’’ he said. ‘‘I know the type of person I am.’’
His baseball future probably is going to depend on what kind of player he looks like to other big-league teams. He even might benefit from a change of scenery.
‘‘You could look at this a lot of different ways,’’ said Russell, who was demoted to the minors twice this season. ‘‘The grass isn’t necessarily greener on the other side.’’
The support of the Cubs, especially in the last year, and his relationships with teammates are important to him, he said.
But he also said he recognizes the potential value of a fresh start somewhere new.
‘‘Wherever my path may go, then I’ll adjust,’’ he said. ‘‘And I’ll just let God have the handlebars.’’
Hamels to return
Veteran left-hander Cole Hamels, a pending free agent, will make a final, abbreviated start Saturday after dealing with an injury-hampered second half.
‘‘Trust me, I know I’m healthy,’’ he said. ‘‘I feel amazing. But it’s my first time going into free agency. I don’t want to put that in the back of teams’ heads, how I finished.’’