Posted on September 10, 2017, by Bryan Zarpentine
As they look to close out another NL Central division title, the Chicago Cubs are welcoming back an important piece of the puzzle. The Cubs activated catcher Willson Contreras off the DL prior to Sunday’s series finale against the Milwaukee Brewers. Contreras was not in the starting lineup Sunday. But his return after a month on the DL with a strained hamstring should provide the Cubs with a nice boost over the final three weeks of the season.
“I feel good,” a confident Contreras said Sunday. “I feel good to play. I feel 100 percent. I’m back because I’m ready to play.”
However, Cubs manager Joe Maddon was a little more reserved in his assessment of how ready Contreras is to resume the duties of being Chicago’s everyday catcher.
“He’s available today,” Maddon said before Sunday’s game. “As we get into the next week, we’ll try to get him involved in the games and get him at-bats and get him on the field, maybe not play a complete game. We’re still trying to figure out the entire program or plan. We have to get him going, we have to get him in a game. He’s feeling good.”
Before being sidelined with the hamstring injury, Contreras had arguably become Chicago’s most impactful offensive player. Since the all-star break, he’s hit .311 with an OPS of 1.080. The Cubs have other run producers like Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant. But Contreras is undoubtedly important to the team wrapping up another division title and will continue to be important if the Cubs reach the postseason.
Thus, Maddon and the Cubs must walk a fine line in how they ease Contreras back from his injury. Maddon says that Contreras plays “like his hair is on fire.” The Cubs not only need to monitor how much Contreras plays but also how hard he plays to avoid an injury setback that could potentially end his season.
“It’s hard to ask him to not go 100 percent,” said Maddon said. “The trainers feel really strongly about him being well and healed. I think the best thing we can do is limit innings in the beginning like he was almost on a rehab assignment. To ask him to not go hard or play like he normally does is difficult to do.”
“You learn from injury,” adds Contreras. “That’s the price you pay playing 110 percent every day. But from now, I have to let the situation (dictate) when I can run hard and when I cannot.”
The good news for the Cubs is that they have two veteran catchers in Alex Avila and Rene Rivera to help ease Contreras back. Avila is in the midst of his best offensive season. Rivera has also been productive with the bat since being picked up off waivers last month. Both Avila and Rivera are also solid defensive catchers.
Of course, the Cubs would prefer if a healthy Contreras were their primary catcher late in the season. If he’s healthy, he gives the Cubs the best chance to win on any given day. With both the Brewers and Cardinals still chasing them, every game is important for the Cubs. The sooner they get Contreras fully healthy and in the lineup on a regular basis, the better their chances of getting back to the postseason and defending their world championship.