Cubs’ Nick Madrigal ‘comfortable’ in first game at third base

Madrigal has played second base almost exclusively in his professional career.

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Cubs’ Nick Madrigal awaits a groundball during infield practice last month at the Cubs spring training facility. Madrigal worked at third base over the offseason to prepare for the transition this year.

Cubs’ Nick Madrigal awaits a groundball during infield practice last month at the Cubs spring training facility. Madrigal worked at third base over the offseason to prepare for the transition this year.

John Antonoff/For the Sun-Times

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Dodgers’ first two batters Sunday hit ground balls to Nick Madrigal, who was playing third base for the first time in his professional career. He fielded both smoothly for two quick outs.

“It was nice to put it to use, all the hard work I’ve done in the offseason,” Madrigal said after coming out of the Cubs’ 9-4 loss to the Dodgers on Sunday. “... I had a little bit of jitters right before the game, but once I got the first ball, I felt comfortable afterwards.”

Madrigal has played second base for most of his career, but with the Cubs signing shortstop Dansby Swanson over the offseason and moving Nico Hoerner from short to second, Madrigal has been working out at third base.

The first grounder, off Miguel Rojas’ bat, had Madrigal ranging to his left. But the second required footwork a second baseman is never going to use. Dodgers star Freddie Freeman hit a soft ground ball up the third baseline. Madrigal rounded the ball, charged, and threw off one foot to beat Freeman to first base.

“That’s something I’ve definitely worked on a ton,” he said, “charging it, one hand and throwing off balance. And I felt like I just kind of let my instincts take over.”

Madrigal heaped praise on the Cubs coaching staff for helping him with the transition, but he also picked up a key piece of advice from a clip of Hall of Famer Scott Rolen on MLB Network about a month ago. Rolen, in dress pants and a button down shirt, with a glove on his hand, broke down the fundamentals of playing third base.

“This is one thing that I learned that is never taught, overlooked, maybe it’s common knowledge,” he said before explaining the difference in a third baseman’s eye path on each pitch. A middle infielder will track the ball from the pitcher to home plate, but a third baseman doesn’t have time to do that.

Rolen would focus on the pitcher until he started his delivery. Then, the eight-time gold glover would shift his sight line to the front of the hitting zone.

“That’s helped me a ton because you don’t really think of those things, being new to the position,” Madrigal said. “It sounds like it’s something small, but initially, right when I did that I mean I felt way more comfortable.”

On the offensive side, Madrigal drove in the second of the Cubs’ four runs, hitting a soft line drive into shallow center field for a single.

It also helps that Madrigal is a year and a half removed from the hamstring surgery that ended his 2021 season.

“I’m feeling really good at the plate, and defensively I feel like it’s all coming together, my body’s in a completely different spot this year compared to last year,” Madrigal said. “And just looking forward to what’s ahead.”

Suzuki under evaluation

Outfielder Seiya Suzuki, who the Cubs scratched from the lineup Saturday with left oblique tightness, was scheduled to undergo imaging Sunday.

“Wait and see what information the imaging gives us back,” Ross said, “and plan from there.”

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