Contreras relishes role as iron man backstop

June 5th, 2021

SAN FRANCISCO -- Leaning against a railing at Oracle Park this week, Cubs catcher Willson Contreras cracked a smile. The source of the smirk was the mention of the fact that he currently leads the Majors in innings caught -- by a wide margin.

"I've got to take a lot of pride in that," Contreras said. "We've seen a ton of injuries. Thank God that I've been able to be there every day. I'm looking to keep playing a lot of ballgames this year. We'll see where we end."

Heading into Friday's game against the Giants, Contreras had logged an MLB-leading 391 innings behind the plate for the Cubs. In the National League, Contreras led second-ranked Pirates catcher Jacob Stallings (326 2/3 innings) by more than seven games worth of frames.

Christian Vázquez ranked second in the Majors with 366 1/3 innings caught for the Red Sox.

Handling a heavy workload is not a new development for Contreras, but he does believe last year's abbreviated 60-game season has played a role in his physical readiness this year. The two-time All-Star said the shorter season allowed him to get a head start on his offseason program.

"As a catcher, it helped us a lot," Contreras said of the shorter 2020 campaign. "It helped me recover really quick from last year. I think we were able to hit the offseason earlier than we usually do."

Across the diamond, Giants catcher Buster Posey does not log nearly as many innings as Contreras. That said, the 34-year-old catcher has enjoyed a resurgent showing (175 OPS+ through 38 games) after sitting out last season.

"Posey didn't play last year. He used that to his advantage," Contreras said. "I did play, but I used my offseason to my advantage. This offseason, I prepared myself really well."

Contreras praised the level of communication he has with manager David Ross, who is more than familiar with the rigors of catching from his own playing career. Contreras chuckled when asked if he gets upset when Ross gives him a day off.

"That's a good question," Contreras said. "We have a really good plan, which I like. He lets me know ahead of time what day I'm going to have off. Usually, there's not many days off. I don't like to have them, but I know I have to. Every player needs time off."

Joc's splash blast

Cubs outfielder Joc Pederson put on quite a show after he sent a home run splashing into McCovey Cove in the third inning Thursday. Pederson watched the ball fly for a few seconds before exiting the batter's box, and then he did a delayed bat flip in front of the Cubs' dugout.

"I didn't really try to do anything special," Pederson said Friday. "I just wasn't sure if the ball was going to be foul or fair."

It was plenty fair, dropping into the water a projected 427 feet away from the plate, per Statcast.

"I think he's pretty comfortable on the West Coast," said Ross, referring to Pederson's days with the Dodgers. "He's been here a while and had some success over here. Really nice swing, loud. Loud off the bat."

Full at the Friendly Confines

The Cubs were hopeful Thursday that Wrigley Field would be back to full capacity by the next homestand. On Friday, that hope became reality, when the team gained clearance to return to 100 percent starting on June 11 against the Cardinals.

"I think it's felt like 100 [percent capacity]," Ross said. "So I can't imagine what 100 is actually going to sound like and feel like. I'm super excited about that. I don't know any other way to put it."

The Cubs hosted a crowd at 60 percent capacity on the last homestand.

"It's pretty crazy. Even at 60 percent, the energy at Wrigley is special," Pederson said. "It's definitely a vibe and it's fun to be a part of it out there."

Marisnick, Heyward coming soon?

Outfielders Jake Marisnick (right hamstring strain) and Jason Heyward (left hamstring strain) each logged three at-bats in a rehab assignment with Triple-A Iowa on Thursday. Heyward had two hits, including a home run.

"Jake and Jason both came out of yesterday's game healthy," Ross said Friday. "They've got an off-day today."

For Marisnick, that day off included taking pregame batting practice with the Cubs in San Francisco. That could indicate that Marisnick might be activated Saturday.


"He's one of the best I've ever seen [at back picks]. ... That was one that, as a former catcher, that I loved -- picking guys off and helping out your pitcher. That's what Willson does. He's got an absolute cannon for an arm. He's always looking for that." -- Ross, on Contreras picking off San Francisco's Alex Dickerson at first base in the fifth inning Thursday night