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For Cubs’ Maddon, Russell story not about strikeouts; it’s a glove story

CINCINNATI – The “other” Cubs stud rookie, Addison Russell, already has struck out 10 times in 18 at-bats in his four big-league games. He has just two hits, hasn’t drawn a walk and been thrown out on his only steal attempt.

But Joe Maddon has no apparent plans to take the youngest player in the National League out of the lineup anytime soon.

In fact, even on a Friday night Russell went 0-for-5 and struck out four times, Maddon didn’t seem to think the Cubs could have beaten the Reds without him.

“He’s fine,” Maddon said. “How about the plays he makes on defense. We win that game [Friday] kind of on a couple plays – the one to his backhand, and he throws out the fastest guy in all of baseball, and then he starts a double play on [Brandon Phillips’] ball to his left. That’s where my focus is.”

Cubs starter Jon Lester was bedeviled by speedster Billy Hamilton in three laborious innings and trailed 3-2 when Hamilton led off the fifth looking for a third hit.

But Russell made the defensive play of the game, diving to his right to snare a hard grounder, then throwing in the same motion as he leaped to his feet – one-hopping the throw to first to get a surprised Hamilton on a close play.

Lester struck out the next two batters, and struck out two more in a 1-2-3 sixth to turn over a 3-3 game to the bullpen.

Then in the eighth with two on and none out in a still-tie game, Phillips grounded sharply to the left of Russell, who grabbed it and turned quickly enough to get a 4-6-3 double play that may have ultimately saved a run.

The Cubs won in 11 innings.

“It’s not just about hits, folks,” Maddon said. “If anybody wants to make it just about hits, [go ahead]. But if you want to play that game you’re going to lose a lot. You’ve got to catch it.”

Turns out Russell is playing the role Maddon seemed to envision for Javy Baez when he lobbied late in spring training for the strikeout-challenged young slugger to be on the early roster in large part because of his run-prevention value.

“There’s all kinds of things [Russell] can do to help us win a game,” Maddon said. “And he’s going to hit. He’s going to hit.”