Contreras gets long look batting second

March 18th, 2021

The lineup that manager David Ross assembled for the Cubs’ game on Wednesday night against the Padres had a distinct Opening Day feel to it. And that was not just because was on the mound.

Ross had what very well could be the starting lineup pieced together, but one element of the ordering stood out. It was not the first time this spring that All-Star catcher was slotted in the No. 2 spot behind leadoff man .

"I'm just trying to see that, what it looks like on a daily basis," Ross said. "I'd definitely consider it. That's why he's in there."

It looked just fine on Wednesday night. Contreras had a three-hit evening at the plate -- highlighted by a three-run homer in the second inning. The Cubs' catcher also had a single and triple (both hit the opposite way) as part of a five-RBI night in an 8-2 victory.

Spring Training lineups are not always a test run for the regular season. Often, players appear in the top slots to maximize their number of plate appearances if they are not playing the entire game. In this case, however, Contreras batting second is something Ross is weighing.

Last season, Ross used in the second slot the most (38 times), but the manager has hinted that he is considering moving Rizzo and into the Nos. 3-4 spots. As a catcher, Contreras will not start every game, but Ross wants to get the most out of his bat.

"I've moved him around," said the manager. "I think he's just one of the valuable pieces, a real pesky at-bat, a real right-handed [bat] in-between maybe a guy like Happer leading off -- for the most part from the left side -- and Rizzo maybe in the three or four hole."

Contreras started games between Nos. 2-6 lineup slots in 2020. He hit fifth more than any other spot (26 starts). Contreras posted an .827 OPS against righty pitches, compared with .542 against lefties, though the catcher's career splits are closer (.798 OPS against righties and .861 OPS off lefties).

Among the 11 Cubs players with at least 100 plate appearances, the catcher rated third in on-base percentage (.356), wOBA (.336) and wRC+ (110). Per Statcast, only Happ (90.5 mph) and Kyle Schwarber (92.4 mph) had a higher average exit velocity last year than Contreras (89.3 mph) among Chicago hitters with at least 100 balls in play.

"It's just somebody that brings one of the most quality at-bats we have on the team," Ross said of Contreras. "I value that in the two spot. And I think you start to put your good players in that hole, and he's one of those guys. I was just impressed in looking at some of the deeper-dive things that I value. And his name kept jumping off the page."

Romine remains on shelf
Veteran catcher has been sidelined with a right knee sprain since March 6, and his status for Opening Day remains unclear. As the clock ticks toward the Cubs' April 1 opener, the team knows it may have to look elsewhere for Contreras' backup.

"He's still dealing with some soreness," Ross said of Romine. "He's feeling better daily, but it's just been a really slow process. You can imagine, being a catcher, with the knee barking and then swelling up on him, it's just still taking a minute."

It looks increasingly likely that one of or will begin the season on the Cubs’ 26-man roster. Neither is currently on the 40-man roster.

"Lobey's got some experience. P.J.'s been around here on the radar," Ross said. "We're just kind of looking at what they bring."

Worth noting
• Hendricks worked 3 1/3 innings in his latest Cactus League start, limiting the Padres to two runs on four hits. He struck out four, walked one and added a single in the batter's box. While Hendricks has yet to be officially named the Cubs' Opening Day starter, he remains on target for that assignment.

• Closer , who has struggled out of the chute, had his best Cactus League effort of the spring. The veteran righty struck out one, induced a double play and was hitting 96 mph, per reports in Arizona.

• Infielder was back in the lineup Wednesday night, following a minor bout with back tightness. Hoerner was scratched from the lineup Sunday, and then Ross gave the second-base candidate the next two days to rest and recover.

"He's full go ahead. Nothing to be concerned about," said Ross, who added that Hoerner went through an "intense" workout Wednesday before the night game.

• Righty earned Ross' trust down the stretch last season (.118 opponents' average, 1.80 ERA and 12 strikeouts in 10 innings in September) and is in strong position to earn an Opening Day job. Adam struck out three in one inning against the Angels on Sunday.

"I would say Jason proved himself last year," Ross said, "to be a guy that put himself on the map for us. And he put a lot of work in this offseason to be a guy that is highly considered to have a spot in the bullpen, for sure."