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Rookie Contreras could play bigger role in big games down stretch

OAKLAND, Calif. – The Cubs’ catching future could be on display against the backdrop of their pennant drive the next eight weeks.

Rookie Willson Contreras, who has been on the bench, in left field or at first base for 13 of the Cubs’ last 18 games, could start getting regular starts behind the plate down the stretch – starting as soon as Sunday’s series finale against the Athletics.

“I want to start getting him back there more consistently,” said Maddon, who acknowledged that might mean starting him behind the plate three of every five days.

With David Ross locked in as Jon Lester’s personal catcher, that additional playing time would come at the expense of veteran Miguel Montero, who has struggled offensively all season – though Maddon said he likes Montero’s at-bats more recently.

“And the pop’s in there,” Maddon said. “You don’t want to give up on anybody, man. People get hurt; things just don’t work out as planned sometimes. You want to keep people engaged, and we’ve been able to do that to this point. It’s a balancing act. There’s a lot of good guys that need to play.”

Contreras has proven to be high on the list of those players since making his debut June 17, hitting .271 with an .806 OPS and as many home runs (five) as Montero.

He also has by far the highest percentage of throwing out would-be base stealers among the catchers (42 percent) – with more CS’s (5-for-12) than Montero (2-for-50) in a fraction of as many chances. And while his catcher ERA (4.09 in 165 innings caught) is higher than the other catchers, it has dropped considerably in recent starts (one earned run last 24 innings).

“We need to figure out how to get him involved more often,” said Maddon, who plans to balance increased catching duties against the workload for a guy who’s navigating his first six-month baseball season.

Rotation shuffle

The Cubs plan to swap Jason Hammel and John Lackey’s order in the rotation for the two-game series against the Angels Tuesday and Wednesday, with Lackey going first and Hammel getting the extra day as he returns from bereavement leave.

The move puts Lackey pitching on his sixth day instead of extending him to a seventh, while assuring the big-game veteran pitches in the four-game series against the second-place Cardinals over the weekend.

Notes: The Cubs and A’s wore throwback 1981 uniforms Saturday as the A’s honored their ‘81 playoff team – on a date no major league games were played in 1981 because of the June 11-Aug. 9 players’ strike. … The Cubs won 45 of their final 63 games (.714) last season to roll into the playoffs – including 15 of 16 to start that surge. From the same starting point (game No. 100) this year, the Cubs are 9-1. … Maddon, when asked on Saturday to explain Hendricks: “Jimi or Kyle?”