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Russell on target for May return to Cubs

Chatwood's start moved up as Chicago shuffles rotation; Lester improving
@MLBastian
April 19, 2019

CHICAGO -- With Addison Russell unavailable for the first month of the season, Cubs manager Joe Maddon has utilized several players at second base while regular second baseman Javier Báez has slid over to shortstop. The results over the first few weeks have been strong, but the early success is

CHICAGO -- With Addison Russell unavailable for the first month of the season, Cubs manager Joe Maddon has utilized several players at second base while regular second baseman Javier Báez has slid over to shortstop. The results over the first few weeks have been strong, but the early success is unlikely to alter Chicago's thinking when Russell is eligible to return.

"The guys have been great. They've been great," Maddon said prior to Friday's game against the D-backs. "But again, Addison being well, he's still one of the best shortstops in the game."

Russell is finishing his 40-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball's Domestic Violence Policy, and he will be able to begin a seven-game Minor League stint late next week. Due to Chicago's recently postponed game against the Angels -- Sunday's snowout will be made up on June 3 at Wrigley Field -- Russell will be eligible for activation from MLB's restricted list in time for the Cubs' May 3 home game against the Cardinals.

Since the end of Spring Training, Russell has been in Arizona getting work in at extended spring camp, as the shortstop is not currently eligible to play in any affiliated games. He is still subject to the treatment plan put in place by both MLB and the Cubs to address the off-field issues. President of baseball operations Theo Epstein has emphasized since the offseason that Russell is being given a "conditional second chance" by the club.

While Russell has been in Arizona and with Baez at shortstop, the Cubs have used a combination of Daniel Descalso, Ben Zobrist and David Bote at second base. Entering Friday, Chicago's second basemen as a unit had produced a .307/.395/.417 slash line with a 119 wRC+ (fourth in the National League). Defensively, though, the group has registered -3 Defensive Runs Saved, -7.5 UZR/150 and -0.2 Defensive Runs (per Fangraphs).

Maddon said the Cubs have not discussed a scenario in which Russell would be optioned to the Minors to give him more at-bats prior to returning.

"I haven't even discussed that, honestly," Maddon said. "I've texted him recently. He feels really good, but we haven't even talked about number of at-bats and what he looks like and how we're going to fit it in yet. We haven't gotten there yet. As we get closer to that, obviously we will. But there's not a whole lot to report there yet."

Cubs shuffle rotation

The Cubs revealed some tweaks to their rotation on Friday, announcing that right-hander Tyler Chatwood is now scheduled to start on Sunday against the D-backs. That allows Chicago to feature three right-handers -- Kyle Hendricks (Friday), Yu Darvish (Saturday) and Chatwood (Sunday) -- in the series against Arizona. Lefties José Quintana and Cole Hamels will start on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively, against the Dodgers.

"We just wanted to move it around a bit," said Maddon, who noted that Chatwood has been built up behind the scenes to handle 75-80 pitches. "And that just gives these guys a couple extra days. We wanted to keep Chatwood involved."

Part of the reasoning for the rotation change is based on platoon splits. As a team, the D-backs entered this weekend series with a .758 OPS and 96 wRC+ against righties and an .881 OPS and 126 wRC+ against lefties. The Dodgers, on the other hand, have an .884 OPS and 131 wRC+ against righties and an .825 OPS and 117 wRC+ against lefties.

Worth noting

• While there is still no timetable for the return of Jon Lester (10-day injured list, left hamstring), Maddon said the veteran lefty is doing well in his recovery. Lester could be cleared to throw a simulated game in the near future.

• Lefty Mike Montgomery (10-day IL, left lat) threw off a mound in a bullpen session on Friday, and he is expected to have another Minor League rehab outing scheduled for early next week.

• Lefty Xavier Cedeño (10-day IL, left wrist) will have a Minor League rehab outing with Double-A Tennessee on Saturday.

Quotable

"I would prefer that the generation, the younger group right now, doesn't need to see demonstrations like [bat flips] in order to feel like they can watch baseball, or that baseball's more interesting because somebody bat flips really well, and 'I kind of dig it, because if I watch them, I might see a bat flip.' I would prefer that kids watch baseball because it's a very interesting game, it's intellectually stimulating, when it's played properly it's never too long. I prefer kids learn that method, as opposed to becoming enamored with our game based on histrionics. I really would prefer that, but it seems to be that we are catering to that a bit." -- Maddon

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.