SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — If knee surgery and a hand blister are unable to stop him, then rust doesn’t seem to stand a chance against Steven Souza Jr.
Fine-tuning his swing seems to be Souza’s biggest obstacle now as the outfielder tries to secure a spot on the Cubs’ Opening Day roster.
“I think the timing of being off a year is a question, for sure,” manager David Ross said. “He’s a guy that is going to have to continue to have those at-bats. The timing is going to get off from time to time, and how to reign that back in after a year off from at-bats, I don’t take that lightly. But everything he’s done has been great, and I expect him to develop and move forward.”
Souza missed the entire 2019 season after he slipped on home plate and blew out his knee as a member of the Diamondbacks. The injury happened just days before the start of the regular season.
All told, Souza had an ACL tear, an LCL tear, a partial PCL tear and a posterior lateral capsule tear in his left knee. Trying to show that he’s agile again, he played his first game (four innings) in center field over the weekend, with just one plate appearance, in which he attempted three bunts because of the hand blister.
With the hand showing improvement, Souza is expected to return to action Wednesday against the Padres.
“Just the more I get out there, just the better I’m going to feel, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say how pleased I am with where I am right now,” said Souza, who has 70 home runs in five major-league seasons with a .740 OPS. “It’s just some little stuff, normal spring-training stuff that I’m trying to work through, and at the end of the day, I feel like I will be ready when we break [camp].”
Souza hit a home run off Yu Darvish in a simulated game Friday as his hand blister was starting to develop.
“That’s been a big question from everybody, right? Is my power still there?” Souza said. “For me it hasn’t even been a question. For me, I got into a ball in live [batting practice], but that doesn’t matter. To hit that ball and go to dead center, which is where my power is, it’s just another check point.”
Waiting for No. 1
Ross said he’ll wait until the weekend to announce his Opening Day starter. The honor is expected to go to Darvish or Jon Lester.
The rotation is expected to follow with Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana and Tyler Chatwood, who struck out four in 3⅔ scoreless innings against the Giants.
The Cubs made eight roster moves, and right-hander Michael Rucker was returned to the organization after he was selected by the Orioles in the December Rule 5 draft.
Right-handers Adbert Azolay and Colin Rea and infielder Zack Short were optioned to Class AAA Iowa, while catcher Miguel Amaya was optioned to Class AA Tennessee.
Those assigned to minor-league camp included infielders Carlos Asuaje and Corban Joseph, outfielder Noel Cuevas and utilityman Trent Giambrone.