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That's a first: Contreras starts game with HR

Replacing Rizzo, Cubs catcher goes deep in only experience batting in leadoff spot
MLB.com @CarrieMuskat

WASHINGTON -- Willson Contreras couldn't remember ever leading off a game in his baseball life. He won't forget his debut at the top of the Cubs' order on Monday.

Contreras, inserted into the No. 1 spot against Nationals lefty Gio Gonzalez, launched a 3-1 pitch to left for a leadoff home run, the fifth this season by the Cubs. Chicago added on, posting a 5-4 victory over Washington in the opener of this four-game series.

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WASHINGTON -- Willson Contreras couldn't remember ever leading off a game in his baseball life. He won't forget his debut at the top of the Cubs' order on Monday.

Contreras, inserted into the No. 1 spot against Nationals lefty Gio Gonzalez, launched a 3-1 pitch to left for a leadoff home run, the fifth this season by the Cubs. Chicago added on, posting a 5-4 victory over Washington in the opener of this four-game series.

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Anthony Rizzo has been the Cubs' leadoff man lately -- and has opened games with home runs three times -- but manager Joe Maddon made the switch because Contreras has had success against lefties (.803 OPS) and Rizzo was 2-for-20 in his career against Gonzalez. On Monday, Rizzo went 0-for-2 with a walk against Gonzalez.

"We don't have the 40-steal guy, we don't have that kind of speed to put at the top," Maddon said. "I prefer your best hitters at the top because your best hitters get on base a lot."

Contreras didn't find out he was leading off until he got the text message about the lineup early Monday.

"It doesn't matter who is leading off -- the only thing that matters is if we get on base," Contreras said. "You have to get good at-bats and try to take as many pitches as you can to see what the pitcher is going to do and see what he's throwing and what he's doing in every count."

Contreras is the first catcher with a leadoff home run since the Rays' John Jaso achieved the feat on Sept. 4, 2010. It's only the ninth time in Major League history that a catcher has hit a leadoff home run.

Contreras also sacrificed in the third to advance runner Mark Zagunis and singled in the seventh, plus he had a defensive highlight as he picked off Trea Turner at first base in the third inning.

Video: CHC@WSH: Contreras nabs Turner on overturned call

"Great at-bat," Maddon said of Contreras' home run. "The bunt [in the third] was a good play, too. I thought Willie had a great day. The pickoff at first was large. A lot of good stuff happened today."

Contreras has been on a roll. He's batting .286 with nine doubles, six home runs and 22 RBIs since May 9.

"I love when we participate with that kind of intensity," Maddon said of not just Contreras but the entire team's effort against the Nationals. "I'm not saying we haven't, but coming in here against a really good team, under the circumstances, both teams wanted to win that game. It was kind of fun."

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.

Chicago Cubs, Willson Contreras