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Montero to DL, but Cubs not ready to embrace Contreras debut yet

Willson Contreras has given the Cubs a shot of energy right when they need it.

 

Why not Willson Contreras?

That might have been the most popular question trending on Cubs-related social media after the Cubs decided Thursday to place catcher Miguel Montero on the disabled list and called up journeyman depth guy Tim Federowicz to take Montero’s spot.

Federowicz, who had six catching starts at AAA Iowa, was mostly a backup to Contreras – last year’s Southern League batting champ and one of the Cubs’ top two prospects.

“Contreras’s time will come,” manager Joe Maddon said when the move was announced after Montero’s back soreness persisted into a fourth day.

Contreras, who impressed the big-league staff during his first big-league spring training, is considered the Cubs’ potential catcher of the future, a strong-armed converted third baseman with maybe the best catch-and-throw skills in the organization.

But the Cubs don’t need a debuting, on the-job-trainee as they play under the highest expectations for the team in years, trying to build on the best record in the majors in the early going.

“You’re looking at the overall development of Contreras,” Maddon said. “In your mind’s eye, with a guy like Willson, you’re probably going to wait till the second half hopefully to get him involved here – second half or latter part of the season.”

Federowicz, 28, who has played 89 games in the majors over the past five years, was signed over the winter for this kind of short-term, emergency fill-in duty.

“He’s a veteran. He understands the major leagues. He understands veteran pitchers,” said Maddon, who plans to split starts between Federowicz and David Ross until Montero’s back. “There’s a lot of different reasons why you signed Fed in the first place, and then you don’t run away from him when the opportunity jumps up there.”

Montero, who spent four weeks on the disabled list in 2013 with a similar injury, said that was much worse than this time around and expects to return when eligible May 10. His injury comes just three weeks after the Cubs lost catcher/left fielder Kyle Schwarber for the season with a knee injury.

Montero said he had an MRI but did not have the results back Thursday.

“I’m pretty sure it’s maybe a couple bulging disks that I’ve had there in the past,” he said, “which is nothing crazy, but it’s there. It gets inflamed, and that’s when it starts to spasm in your back, and we need to get the inflammation down and go from there.

“I did have this before but it was even worse before. So I don’t want it to get to that point. I’d much rather take it easy for a couple of days, and see how it goes. At this point it’s been four days, and it’s still pretty tight.”

Meanwhile, even Contreras seemed to wonder about Thursday’s move, tweeting just before game time: “I’ll keep playing hard and working hard. That’s all I can control.”

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Montero, a mentor and big supporter of Contreras in spring training, gets the decision.

“When I came up to the big leagues my first year I thought it was going to be easier. Sometimes I wondered the same question for myself: `Man, how difficult can it be?’ “ said Montero, who added it took close to two years in the majors to fully get it. “Especially when you have these kinds of pitchers who have pretty much all been around for a long time, and you put a lot of pressure on yourself trying to call a perfect game for these guys. It’s a lot of weight on your shoulders.

“I guess they’re trying to avoid that. Obviously, the time will come for him.”