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Russell's back improving as Zobrist returns

March 28, 2017

MESA, Ariz. -- Benjamin Zobrist returned to the Cubs lineup Tuesday after missing more than one week because of a stiff neck while Addison Russell remained day to day, still nursing a sore back."Missing a few games this spring is a lot better than a few games in the season,"

MESA, Ariz. -- Benjamin Zobrist returned to the Cubs lineup Tuesday after missing more than one week because of a stiff neck while Addison Russell remained day to day, still nursing a sore back.
"Missing a few games this spring is a lot better than a few games in the season," Russell said Tuesday. "I've talked to [manager Joe Maddon] and there's no hurry back. I think in Houston, I'll get reps, but as far as tightness, it's getting better."
The Cubs will play two exhibition games in Houston on Thursday and Friday before opening the regular season Sunday night against the Cardinals in St. Louis.
Russell's back tightened up on him one morning and wasn't believed to be serious. He has not played since March 22.
Zobrist had not played since March 19, when he felt his neck stiffen. He went 0-for-2 with a walk in the Cubs' 10-7 loss to the Giants on Tuesday.
"I couldn't turn my head all the way to the left, that was all it was," Zobrist said. "I couldn't bat right-handed at the time. I could bat left-handed, not right-handed. They said, 'Let it calm down and do some soft tissue work.'"
Zobrist said he may play in a Minor League game Wednesday to get more at-bats.
• One thing Zobrist and Maddon talked about before Spring Training started was the importance of rest. It's something Maddon has addressed all spring, especially after the Cubs' extended season last year.
"I think [Maddon's] words were, 'I really think rest is the next improvement in player performance, learning what rest means, what good rest is for players and what kind of rest players need,'" Zobrist said. "And that doesn't mean because you're 35 [years old]. If you're 25, you still have to take care of yourself and get the proper rest. Because we have such a deep team, he's able to do that and still feel confident about the team on the field."
So Zobrist is prepared to share second base with Javier Baez and also see some playing time in the outfield as well.
"It's a good problem to have when you have really good players not playing and sitting on the bench," Zobrist said of the depth on the Cubs. "We had that last year, and we had guys accept their roles and buy into the team concept. The makeup of this team is the same. We have a few new guys and they have the same mindset. I anticipate more of the same."
• The Cubs released infielder Munenori Kawasaki, giving him a chance to pursue other opportunities. Kawasaki batted .282 in 17 games this spring. Kawasaki, 35, spent the majority of last season at Triple-A Iowa, where he batted .255 in 102 games.
"Hopefully, we get a chance to sign him back," Maddon said. "A guy like him needs to take advantage of how well he's playing and see if there's a chance to get a Major League job. We would love to have him back."
• Kawasaki's greatest moments with the Cubs
Maddon said he felt they had enough depth at the middle infield with Baez and Zobrist.
"The word 'release' is a very harsh word but I think it can be rectified," Maddon said of Kawasaki. "I hope he comes back to us, I really do."
• Speaking of Baez, Maddon talked to the infielder to make sure he's gotten enough rest after playing in the World Baseball Classic.
"For me, when you expend as much emotion as he has over a couple weeks, I'm concerned about mental fatigue," Maddon said of Baez, who played for Team Puerto Rico. "I told him, 'If you need some time, let me know.' I'm a big believer in emotional fatigue and how it impacts you in the game."
• The Cubs trimmed three more from the roster late Tuesday. They assigned Jemile Weeks and Chris Dominguez to Minor League camp and will return left-handed pitcher Caleb Smith to the Yankees. In December, Chicago acquired Smith, who was the Brewers' selection in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft. The Brewers traded Smith to the Cubs for cash considerations.
Clubs pay $100,000 to select a player in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft. If that player does not stay on the 25-man roster for the full season, he must be offered back to his former team for $50,000.
In five games this spring, Smith gave up three runs over 6 1/3 innings.
With the moves, the camp roster is now 27. The biggest decision remaining is whether the Cubs keep infielder Thomas La Stella or outfielder Matthew Szczur, who is out of options. Catcher Carlos Corporan, a non-roster invitee, also is still on the spring roster, but he's not projected to make the final 25-man roster.

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast.