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Zobrist ready to return to baseball action

Veteran to start Minor League assignment after missing three months dealing with family situation
@MLBastian
August 2, 2019

CHICAGO -- Kris Bryant glances at Ben Zobrist's locker each day as he makes his way through the Cubs' clubhouse at Wrigley Field. Bryant and the rest of Chicago's players are looking forward to the moment the revered veteran is back in the room with them. If everything goes according

CHICAGO -- Kris Bryant glances at Ben Zobrist's locker each day as he makes his way through the Cubs' clubhouse at Wrigley Field. Bryant and the rest of Chicago's players are looking forward to the moment the revered veteran is back in the room with them.

If everything goes according to plan, that day will arrive later this season.

"Like we've all said before," Bryant said, "he's been a big part of this team, just a big presence, a veteran guy, just a smile in the clubhouse. We need that sometimes. We've certainly missed him -- not just what he does on the field, but what he does in here. I can't wait to have him back."

Prior to Friday afternoon’s game against the Brewers, Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein revealed more details about the plan to have Zobrist build back up to game readiness. On Friday, the 38-year-old will begin a Minor League assignment with Class A South Bend before being re-evaluated on Monday to determine the next steps.

Zobrist, who has been on Major League Baseball's restricted list since May 8 in order to focus on a family situation, will continue to move up the Minor League ladder throughout August. Zobrist will first get a handful of at-bats as a designated hitter before mixing in innings at second base and in the outfield in an "off and on" playing schedule.

"I don't think he'll play straight through," Epstein said. "I think he's going to take some time off in between these stints to continue to get his body in shape and continue to practice. And he's not going to come back as an everyday player anyway, so it makes sense to get him ready this way.

"It's what's best for him and his personal situation combined with the baseball situation, so we're working together to try and plan the best path back for him. Obviously, he'll need to play some in Triple-A, because that's the closest we've got to the big leagues."

Epstein noted recently that MLB allows non-suspended players on the restricted list a 30-day window before they are required to be activated. If everything goes according to plan, Epstein said the Cubs would need to reinstate Zobrist by Aug. 31 for him to be eligible for the postseason.

Chicago manager Joe Maddon said he plans on touching base with Zobrist soon, but has left the bulk of the communication to the front office over the past few months. The manager -- whose time with Zobrist dates back to their days with Tampa Bay -- is also eager to have the utility man back in the clubhouse and on the field.

"Listen, this guy's been really important to us over the last several years," Maddon said. "He's gotten some pretty big hits and I anticipate -- if everything goes well -- he'll do that again. It definitely would be a boon, the things that he can do, the position he plays and his attributes at the plate. I don't know when that's going to happen, but absolutely I would enjoy seeing that."

Prior to going on the restricted list, Zobrist was batting .241 with a .596 OPS in 83 at-bats over 26 games. Last year, the 14-year veteran hit at a .305 clip with an .817 OPS in 139 games, while mostly bouncing between second base and the corner-outfield spots.

Given the unique nature of Zobrist's situation, both Epstein and Maddon said there is no way to really know how the time off may have impacted his ability to perform.

"All I keep falling back on is I trust the person," Epstein said. "He would not be attempting to come back if he didn't think he could play at a high level. We've talked about this, he and I, that he's well aware of everything it takes physically and mentally to prepare -- especially at age 38 -- to play at this level."

Bryant cracked a smile when asked if he would be checking to see how Zobrist played with South Bend.

"Knowing him," Bryant said, "I'm sure he'll just pick up the bat and go out there and have three really good at-bats and probably be ready to go in a couple days."

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.