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Cubs’ David Ross back from flu just in time to hook pal Jon Lester for first career pitching change

Tuesday marked a long-anticipated managing debut as Ross returned to the Cubs’ spring, even if the spring did not seem to have fully returned to Ross.

Cubs manager David Ross with catcher Willson Contreras early in camp.
Cubs manager David Ross with catcher Willson Contreras early in camp.
John Antonoff/For the Sun-Times

MESA, Ariz. — It took one day — before the first exhibition game of his managing career — for the Cubs’ David Ross to succumb to the flu and miss a game, eliciting the kind of concern and compassion you might expect from the boss.

‘‘You’re no Lou Gehrig,’’ general manager Jed Hoyer texted Ross on Saturday.

Determined to push through Sunday, Ross instead wound up in a nearby hospital for four to five hours, getting fluids through an IV. Players were texting him GIFs of fictional manager Lou Brown bouncing off a hospital bed in ‘‘Major League 2.’’

On Monday, first baseman Anthony Rizzo trolled Ross by walking through the clubhouse wearing a surgical mask on the way to batting practice.

‘‘He’s definitely been leading the charge giving me a lot of heck,’’ Ross said as he returned for his first full day of work Tuesday after a half-day Monday.


‘‘Only when it’s deserved,’’ Rizzo said with a laugh, adding the GIFs weren’t (at least directly) from him. ‘‘I didn’t text him at all. I let him be. But it’s funny.’’

‘‘And what goes around comes around,’’ Ross said with a smile. ‘‘Just so you know, Jed’s a little under the weather today. So that’s karma.’’

Tuesday marked a long-anticipated managing debut as Ross returned to the Cubs’ spring, even if the spring didn’t seem to have fully returned to Ross.

‘‘It stinks because you give all these talks to the guys, and I’m saying I want everybody in the dugout in the first game,’’ Ross said through a hint of lingering rasp in his voice. ‘‘And I’m sitting at home watching, like, 62 dudes in the dugout. . . . I’m holding everybody accountable here, and I’m the only one not there.

‘‘That was tough, man, I’ll be honest with you. Of all the times to miss, it felt terrible.’’

Not that he could do anything about it. Ross said he even got a flu shot before the flu season, which probably is why it wasn’t worse.

‘‘It’s nice to be back; I’m excited,’’ he said before the Cubs faced the Rockies. ‘‘I feel a lot better today. The main thing was to not get any of these guys sick.’’

Not so fast.

Left-hander Jose Quintana only returned to light throwing Tuesday after missing a few days with a similar bug.

‘‘We’ll adjust his schedule according to how he’s feeling,’’ Ross said.

The flu circulating through the clubhouse probably will be long gone before Ross lives this one down.

‘‘I had a buddy of mine text me: ‘You quit already?’ ’’ he said.

In at least one way, however, Ross’ first-week schedule had a familiar feel to it.

‘‘As a player, I only had to show up for Jon Lester’s starts,’’ said Ross, Lester’s former personal catcher. ‘‘So I figured today was a good day to get back.’’

Just in time, in fact, to get his first taste of pulling Lester after the first three batters reached in the second inning.

Lester, who reached his pitch limit after giving up a walk, a single and a double to start the second, provided Ross with his first chance to take the ball from a pitcher in any kind of a game as a manager.

‘‘Sounds about right,’’ Lester said. ‘‘I think people are making a big deal out of it more than him and me are. I don’t want to downplay it to be absolutely nothing because, obviously, we’ve been friends for a long time and have that relationship. But regardless of if it’s spring training, it’s never good when they come out there to take the ball from you. That’s the way I look at it, not that it’s Rossy.’’

By the time Lester left the mound, it was hard to determine who was trolling whom, much less whether Lester noticed that Effross then was announced. To be clear, that was minor-league pitcher Scott Effross, not a Lester utterance.

‘‘No, I didn’t,’’ Lester said with a chuckle. ‘‘I didn’t notice that.’’