Center of attention: Cubs tinker with outfield alignment ahead of October
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WASHINGTON — For about an hour Friday afternoon, Kris Bryant was the Cubs’ starting center fielder.
That lasted until Ben Zobrist was scratched from his start in right field because of a stiff neck and Bryant was reassigned to right.
But fall clearly is in the air for the Cubs as they put the first week of September behind them and start looking at how best to build a playoff lineup with Daniel Murphy at second base and Javy Baez on the left side of the infield.
“This was the perfect night to try it with,” said manager Joe Maddon, whose mad-scientist hat is firmly in place for the final weeks of the season.
Bryant, whose only start in center came in his seventh career game in 2015, will get his day there this month if Maddon can make it happen while playing with all the possible postseason pictures.
“You can start writing down the possibilities,” said Maddon, who approached the willing Bryant with the center field idea almost as soon as he returned from the disabled list last weekend. Maddon still likes Albert Almora Jr. in center against left-handers.
“There’s so many different looks right now if everybody’s healthy,” he said.
Maddon stressed that the manipulation of his outfield has nothing to do with right fielder Jason Heyward’s hamstring injury, but the often-tricky nature of such injuries makes Heyward’s timeline anything but certain. Heyward, who felt the right hamstring “pop” as he dove for a ball in center on Aug. 30, is not with the team in Washington. Maddon seemed sure Heyward will be back at a productive level by playoff time and expects to have a firmer idea of his progress by midweek.
Meanwhile, the recently acquired Murphy is not leaving his post at second base or the leadoff spot any time soon, which means the Cubs have to keep third base or shortstop available every day for MVP candidate Baez. And if Addison Russell — or, in Friday’s case, David Bote — is in the lineup, Bryant becomes an outfielder.
“I’m ready for it,” Bryant said.
Ben back soon
Maddon said he anticipated Zobrist being available to start Saturday night’s game. The veteran was scheduled for a day off Sunday, Maddon said, but now he’s expected to play that day after getting Friday off.
Zobrist ranked third in the National League with a .313 average after his two-hit game Thursday night. He’s 8-for-24 with three doubles and a walk during this road trip and is hitting .366 since the All-Star break.
This and that
Kyle Schwarber, who left Wednesday’s game because of tightness in his back, was back in the lineup Friday night after coming off the bench to pinch hit Thursday.
• Terrance Gore, who came off the bench as a pinch runner Thursday and stole his 23rd career base, still seeks his first career hit after 15 plate appearances.
“I want it so bad,” Maddon said. “The swing’s not awful. He probably just needs opportunity.”
• Thursday’s 10-inning victory in the series opener against the Nationals was the Cubs’ 44th of the season after trailing — the most in the majors.
• Jon Lester, who pitched one inning in Friday’s rain-postponed game, which will be made up as part of a doubleheader Saturday, is 23-7 in 41 starts since last year’s All-Star break, the most for any lefty in the majors.
He’s also 14-4 with a 3.16 ERA against NL East opponents since joining the Cubs.