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Baez (illness) scratched as Cubs revamp order

Kimbrel, Kintzler near return to active roster
@paul_casella
August 15, 2019

PHILADELPHIA -- Cubs manager Joe Maddon decided to overhaul his original lineup for Thursday's series finale after shortstop Javier Báez became the latest Chicago player to come down with an illness. With Baez scratched from the middle of the lineup, Maddon used it as an opportunity to move Anthony Rizzo

PHILADELPHIA -- Cubs manager Joe Maddon decided to overhaul his original lineup for Thursday's series finale after shortstop Javier Báez became the latest Chicago player to come down with an illness.

With Baez scratched from the middle of the lineup, Maddon used it as an opportunity to move Anthony Rizzo to the leadoff spot for just the second time this season. Albert Almora Jr., who was originally hitting leadoff, slid down to the No. 9 spot, while starter Yu Darvish hit eighth. Nicholas Castellanos and Kris Bryant remained second and third in the lineup, respectively.

"I just found out. We came in and had the other lineup all set up," Maddon said of Baez's illness. "... I just wanted to move everything up at that point. Looking at the balance after Javy was taken out of the middle of the lineup, I just thought Castellanos stays static and give Rizzo that shot."

The shakeup comes after the Cubs scored just three runs over the first two games of the series in Philadelphia. It also takes place on a night the Phillies started left-hander Drew Smyly. The Cubs are just 11-15 against left-handed starters this season, including 4-11 in their last 15 such contests. Chicago was held to just two runs over six innings by soft-throwing lefty Jason Vargas in Tuesday's series opener.

Maddon hoped that the lineup tweak would jumpstart not only the Cubs' offense as a whole, but also Rizzo specifically. Rizzo entered Thursday with just two home runs over his last 50 games dating to June 16, though he was still hitting a respectable .291 with a .394 on-base percentage during that span. He, too, has struggled against southpaws this season, hitting just .210 with a .702 OPS against lefties, compared to .307 with a .955 OPS against right-handers.

"It’s no big secret we haven’t done a great job of hitting lefties this year, so again trying to figure all that out," Maddon said. "And I know how Rizzo rises to occasions when given challenges like this. It might get him straightened out, and it definitely gives us a chance to get the lineup going earlier with him up there."

Rizzo came through with a homer to start the scoring on Thursday, but the Cubs were shocked late in a 7-5 loss after Bryce Harper's sweep-sealing slam.

As for Baez, he did not play on Thursday, though Maddon left the door open for a potential pinch-hit appearance depending on how Baez felt as the night went on. The Cubs have had "six or seven" players hit by a similar illness over the last few weeks.

"It just pops up, it doesn’t last long, but it definitely knocks guys down for a couple days," Maddon said. "Even when they say they’re well, you still might not be seeing the best version of them, having been weak and losing a lot of fluids, then making a comeback. It’s something we’ve endured the last couple weeks with different guys at different times."

Kimbrel, Kintzler on the verge of returning
Right-hander Craig Kimbrel (right knee inflammation) could be nearing a return after throwing his second bullpen session on Thursday without any issues. The club has not yet decided whether Kimbrel will make any rehab appearances or simply be activated from the injured list, though Maddon said he expects that decision to be made on Friday.

"We haven’t decided that. He threw [today], so we want to wait and see how everything shakes out," Maddon said. "When I talked to him, he was very optimistic, but we haven’t decided whether that [rehab] game is necessary or not. We’ll get that done by tomorrow."

Either way, the Cubs' bullpen figures to get a lift on Friday, with the team expected to activate fellow right-hander Brandon Kintzler (right pectoral inflammation). Steve Cishek is expected to throw another bullpen session during the weekend series in Pittsburgh and remains optimistic that he will return as soon as he's eligible on Tuesday.

"Thumbs up all over the place," Maddon said. "Kintzler is on the horizon, and I don’t think that Craig is far behind, so we might be getting them both back very soon."

News and notes
• Outfielder Jason Heyward, who was scratched from Wednesday's lineup due to left knee inflammation, reported to the park feeling better on Thursday and was available off the bench for the series finale.

• The Cubs recalled right-hander James Norwood from Triple-A Iowa prior to Thursday's game after optioning righty Alec Mills to Iowa following Wednesday's game. Mills worked six innings in relief in Wednesday's 11-1 loss.

Paul Casella is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter @paul_casella.