Willson Contreras has been with the Cubs long enough to learn the personality differences between the likes of Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and the rest of the team's pitchers. It has helped the catcher reach a point where he feels he can be a calming presence for the hurlers.
"I'm just trying to be their pillow," Contreras said via Zoom prior to Wednesday's game in Detroit. "They can rest on me. I'm trying to be the best I can for my pitchers. That's something that I've been doing really good this year."
Part of that process for the two-time All-Star over the past couple of years has been finding ways to improve his pitch framing, which has been an area of criticism amid his elite offensive performance at the position.
Under the watch of new Cubs first-base coach and catching instructor Craig Driver, Contreras has worked hard on finding consistency in his setup and pre-pitch approach. One noticeable change has been his glove positioning. He has been able to pull pitches toward the zone more fluidly, rather than moving to the ball and then bringing it back in.
"I feel great. I feel better than before behind the plate," Contreras said. "There's no question about it. There's no doubt about it that I've been way better than the years before. And that's why I put in 120 percent during the offseason, working on my framing, because I know that I had to get better at it."
The numbers back up Contreras' evaluation, too. Entering Wednesday, the catcher had 0.4 Framing Runs, according to Fangraphs. That is up from minus 8.9 in 2019 and minus 18.2 in '18. At the same time, Contreras has thrown runners out at a 31 percent clip with zero passed balls to date this year.
"I give him an A+ to be honest with you, if we're grading where he's at," Cubs manager David Ross said. "There's still a second half and more of a body of work to assess. But for me, the way he's gone about his pregame routine, the relationship he's built with Craig Driver and staying true to what he feels like's making him better, the results are showing."
• In the wake of Tuesday's 7-1 loss, it would be easy to lose sight of the key relief appearance by righty Duane Underwood Jr. With Detroit holding a 2-0 lead in the second inning, Ross gave the ball to Underwood with the bases loaded and one out. The righty struck out Jeimer Candelario and Niko Goodrum to escape.
"Rossy calling my number, I mean, it means a lot to me," Underwood said. "I'm going to keep doing my job. I've been putting in a lot of work, and I was really happy he called my number. Hopefully I can do those things going forward."
• Following Thursday's off-day, Hendricks is scheduled to start for the Cubs on Friday in Cincinnati. Righty Yu Darvish will start one of Saturday's doubleheader games against the Reds. The other two probable starters (second game Saturday and Sunday) remain to be determined.
• The Cubs released veteran reliever Kelvin Herrera on Wednesday. The 30-year-old righty was recently signed to a Minor League deal and had been at Chicago's alternate training site in South Bend, Ind. The Cubs now have 57 players in their 60-man player pool.
"There's a lot of different guys with a lot of different thoughts. I just try to stay neutral. I just try to keep [giving] them positive thoughts, positive vibes. And whenever they get struggles, I just stick around them and try to get their mind out of there, to keep looking forward." -- Contreras, on working with the pitchers