Baez amazes yet again with swim-move slide

Reigning NL MVP runner-up continues to add to career highlight reel

March 17th, 2019

MESA, Ariz. -- Spring Training is the time to test things out before everything counts. In Sunday's 7-2 loss to the Rockies, Cubs star  dusted off one of his favorite tricks, pulling off a how-did-he-do-that slide on a stolen base in the first inning.

With  batting, Baez broke for second base on a 1-1 pitch from Rockies right-hander . The throw from catcher Tony Wolters arrived in time to shortstop Garrett Hampson, who reached down to tag Baez's left arm. Instead, Baez lifted his arm up, dodged the tag and brought it back down on the base to complete the theft.

Prior to Sunday's game, Cubs manager Joe Maddon was asked what Baez could do to improve his game from a year ago, when the infielder was the runner-up for the Most Valuable Player Award in the National League.

"That would be asking a little bit too much. He had a pretty good year," Maddon said. "I just think there's a natural maturation process probably more than anything. And he's onto this, too. It's just to really be a little bit more structured in his own strike zone -- that would be awesome. And just playing through the baseball when he's at shortstop. And he knows that."

Maddon also said he plans on being a little proactive in communicating with Baez throughout the year.

"Guys like him, you have a tendency to leave alone," Maddon said. "They're so confident in their own stuff that, many times, you think you're interfering with the thought process, because he has good thought process. So I've got to be mindful of that and know when to interject a little bit to know what's going on in there."

Russell seeing less action

Given that shortstop  will begin the regular season on the restricted list, the Cubs plan on tapering his playing time over the remainder of Spring Training. Russell will be eligible to return on May 1 after finishing his 40-game suspension for violating MLB's Domestic Violence Policy. In the meantime, the shortstop has to continue a treatment plan behind the scenes.

"He's adhering to policies or procedures off the field," Maddon said. "He's smiling more easily right now. I think he's more at ease. Although, I know he knows he's got to go through this suspended period yet and we're still working through things. But the conversations have been good and he's saying all the right things and I think he's coming to terms or grips with what he had done in the past and trying to move forward."

To date, Russell has appeared in eight Cactus League games, but Chicago will focus on splitting up the shortstop duties between Baez and backup  as the team draws closer to Opening Day. When Spring Training ends, Russell can continue to get work in camp games, but he will be ineligible to take part in any official Minor League games until a week before being eligible for activation.

Worth noting

• Cubs strength and conditioning coach Tim Buss has become known for his Spring Training antics over the years. For St. Patrick's Day on Sunday, Buss led the morning stretch covered in green body paint while wearing a denim speedo and bright orange wig.

"They need to very quickly get that [paint] off of him before he dies," Maddon quipped.

• Veteran utility man  (left shoulder) took part in pieces of Sunday's morning workout, easing back into baseball activity. Descalso, who has not yet been ruled out for Opening Day, might be cleared to resume swinging a bat within the next few days.

• Veteran lefty  and third baseman  joined former Cubs pitcher Rick Sutcliffe to speak to a group of Minor League players on Sunday morning.

Up next

The Cubs will give the start to right-hander  on Tuesday, when a split-squad Chicago team hosts the Mariners at 3:05 p.m. CT at Sloan Park. The Cubs have not yet announced who will start in the 8:05 p.m. CT split-squad road game against the Royals in Surprise, Ariz.