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Notes: Almora going all out; Rizzo takes step

@MLBastian
July 18, 2020

CHICAGO -- Albert Almora Jr. has had one of the more eventful Summer Camp showings for the Cubs. The center fielder crashed into Wrigley's bricks and ivy while trying to make a running catch early in camp, and came out of it OK. Almora has stolen three bases and has

CHICAGO -- Albert Almora Jr. has had one of the more eventful Summer Camp showings for the Cubs.

The center fielder crashed into Wrigley's bricks and ivy while trying to make a running catch early in camp, and came out of it OK. Almora has stolen three bases and has sliced singles the opposite way. On Friday night, he launched a homer off Jon Lester over the left-field bleachers, and later scored from second on a bunt groundout.

"I think Albert had one of the best quarantines that you could have," Cubs manager David Ross said on Saturday. "Everybody comes in here a little bit differently after that long break. Almora did a phenomenal job of staying ready. He's swinging the bat really well right now. Running the bases. His full game."

When Spring Training originally began, Almora looked to be staring at a timeshare in center field with Ian Happ. The addition of the designated hitter helps loosen up the roster some for Ross, though. Now, if the manager wants to prioritize defense, he could keep Almora in center and move other outfielders through that DH slot.

Ross has emphasized the importance of playing the hot hands in a 60-game season, and not necessarily making each night's lineup strictly based on platoon advantage. Under that approach, Almora's impressive Summer Camp could open the door for regular playing time.

"This is a year more than ever where selfishness is out the door," Almora said earlier in camp. "This is all about the Cubs. We've got 60 games. It's not a marathon like it always is. It's a sprint, and every game matters. Every baserunning thing, every defensive out, hitting, so it's going to be fun. I'm excited to see how Rossy does his first year."

During Spring Training, Almora arrived in Arizona with an adjusted swing, following an offseason's worth of work. The outfielder looked to be in a great spot offensively in February and March, and he has not looked like he has missed a step after another three-month stoppage due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Cubs hitting coach Anthony Iapoce has been impressed with how Almora was able to maintain his focus leading up to Summer Camp.

"His initial move -- we call it, 'the move before the move' -- has been the same," Iapoce said of Almora's swing. "The way he gathers, the way he loads, before he even swings. So that's mainly the thing that he's been working on, and not to rush that. Being really relaxed between pitches. The move has still been there.

"So you're seeing some confidence roll out of him, and we all know Albert rides high on confidence. When he sees success, he becomes more efficient at the plate. So it's good to see the things that he worked on in the winter, that he took into Spring Training and was really confident about [have continued]."

Rizzo takes 'step in the right direction'
Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo fielded grounders and took regular batting practice early on Saturday, according to Ross. The early indication was that Rizzo, who has been dealing with lower-back tightness for nearly two weeks, got through the workout without any issues.

"It was a good work day for him. Felt good afterwards. All positives," Ross said on Saturday. "We'll wait and see how he reacts tomorrow. He's still day to day. Same status, but a step in the right direction."

It appears unlikely that Rizzo would be cleared to play in Sunday night's exhibition game against the White Sox (7:05 CT, live on MLB.TV), and the first baseman's availability for Opening Day remains unclear.

5 issues illuminated at Cubs Summer Camp

Worth noting
• With the addition of the designated hitter, there was already potential for catcher Victor Caratini to see more playing time than a traditional backup. In light of Rizzo's uncertain status, Caratini could also see an increase in action as Chicago's temporary first baseman.

"I'm always trying to help the team and put the team first," Caratini said on Saturday via a translator. "Anthony Rizzo is our first baseman, the Cubs' first baseman, and he's a key player for the team. I don't wish for Anthony to start on the injured list. I wish for a very healthy recovery. But I'm excited if the opportunity presents itself to start and play first base."

• Ross has not revealed how the last three spots in the rotation will be ordered. That includes where the manager sees fit to place Jon Lester, who allowed two runs on seven hits in three innings in Friday's intrasquad game.

"It's starting to take shape. I talked to Jonny a little bit today," Ross said. "He's working on a few mechanical things, just getting on top of the baseball. [It was his] first time with an umpire, dealing with some of those issues."

• Ross noted on Saturday that his primary options for second base will indeed be Jason Kipnis and rookie Nico Hoerner. That means David Bote will be used more as a utility man all over the infield and based on matchups.

"The one good thing about this roster is there's a lot of flexibility," Ross said. "Guys can play all over. They're used to doing it from the previous manager that was here. Guys can move all over. I'd like to have some set areas, but when guys are swinging the bat, you want to get them in there."

Who's in line for Cubs' Opening Day roster?

Up next
Righty Kyle Hendricks, who was named the Cubs' Opening Day starter earlier this week, is scheduled to start for the North Siders in Sunday night's exhibition against the White Sox at Wrigley Field. It will be the first of three exhibition games for the Cubs, who play the Sox again Monday at Guaranteed Rate Field before welcoming the Twins to Wrigley on Wednesday.

Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for MLB.com. He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian.