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Contreras aims for back-to-back ASG starts

@MLBastian
June 26, 2019

VOTE NOW! The All-Star Starters Election ballot is open until Thursday at 3 p.m. CT. Questions? Our complete guide to voting will fill you in on everything you need to know. CHICAGO -- Willson Contreras ran away with the vote in the Primary round of All-Star balloting, but the tally

VOTE NOW! The All-Star Starters Election ballot is open until Thursday at 3 p.m. CT. Questions? Our complete guide to voting will fill you in on everything you need to know.

CHICAGO -- Willson Contreras ran away with the vote in the Primary round of All-Star balloting, but the tally reset to zero for the Cubs catcher ahead of the next round of voting. In order for Contreras to earn a starting nod for the National League, he will need fans who voted for other catchers to check the box next to his name in the Starters Election.

"It would be really special for me and my family," Contreras said on Saturday morning. "And it would be very special for the city and the team. I'm really proud of what I've done so far this year, the improvements that I have made since the season started. I'm looking forward to being the starter again."

VOTE NOW: Google MLB All-Star Starters Election

The Starters Election is underway and runs through Thursday at 3 p.m. CT. Following Friday's unveiling of the finalists at each position, the Cubs initiated their "It Matters" campaign. And when the voting period arrives on Wednesday, the team will have an event on Gallagher Way outside Wrigley Field to encourage fans to cast their votes for Chicago's seven finalists.

The winners will be announced on Thursday starting at 6 p.m. CT on ESPN, while All-Star pitchers and reserves will be named at 4:30 p.m. CT on June 30, also on ESPN.

Besides Contreras, first baseman Anthony Rizzo, shortstop Javier Báez and third baseman Kris Bryant were all finalists, along with outfielders Albert Almora Jr., Jason Heyward and Kyle Schwarber.

"It feels good to have six of my teammates on the final list," Contreras said. "I hope many of them get to be the starters. They've been doing a really good job. We've been doing a really good job as a team. We take pride in that, but we'll see. We've got to do some work after the All-Star Game, too."

The 2019 All-Star Game presented by Mastercard will be played on Tuesday, July 9, at Progressive Field in Cleveland. It will be televised nationally by FOX Sports; in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and RDS; and worldwide by partners in more than 180 countries. FOX Deportes will provide Spanish-language coverage in the United States, while ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide exclusive national radio coverage.

MLB Network, MLB.com and SiriusXM also will provide comprehensive All-Star Week coverage. During the game, fans may visit MLB.com and the 30 club sites to submit their choices for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet. For more information about MLB All-Star Week and to purchase tickets, please visit AllStarGame.com and follow @MLB and @AllStarGame on social media.

If Contreras does win the starting vote -- he's up against Brian McCann of the Braves and Yasmani Grandal of the Brewers -- he would become the first Cubs catcher to start in consecutive Midsummer Classics since Hall-of-Famer Gabby Hartnett in 1936-37.

"If he's able to garner that kind of an honor, that's pretty impressive," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "Part of it is you have to have the work ethic and the caring that Willson has in order to pull it off. Plus, just pure ability. And, of course, a lot of it has to do with his offense, beyond being able to block and throw like he does, and his receiving's getting better."

Kimbrel watch

Cubs closer Craig Kimbrel is on target to join the Major League club soon, but Chicago is still working through the right-hander's schedule.

Kimbrel logged 19 pitches (12 strikes) in one inning for Triple-A Iowa on Friday night and then threw 14 pitches (eight strikes) in two-thirds of an inning on Saturday for Iowa. In his latest outing, Kimbrel started the game -- due to poor weather in the forecast -- and ended with one strikeout, one flyout, a walk issued and one homer allowed. It marked his third Minor League game since signing a multiyear contract with Chicago on June 7.

The current plan calls for Kimbrel to now take Sunday and Monday off with the goal of making at least one more Minor League appearance. There is a chance that Kimbrel could join the Cubs on Thursday at the earliest, but it may be more realistic that he arrives during the upcoming road trip.

"He's doing really well, coming through everything in flying colors," Maddon said. "In a couple days, we'll see how he feels. That'll be very indicative of what we can or cannot do or when. I like the process we're going through with him, to not be so expedient. I think it's going to benefit us in the long run and him."

Alzolay gets the nod

Cubs pitcher Adbert Alzolay was impressive in his MLB debut on Thursday night, and now the rookie is getting a chance to make the first start of his career.

Maddon announced Saturday that Alzolay will start on Tuesday against the Braves. The rest of the rotation for that series will include Jon Lester (Monday), Yu Darvish (Wednesday) and Tyler Chatwood (Thursday). The 24-year-old Alzolay serves as a sixth starter, providing an additional day of rest for the remainder of the starting staff during this stretch of 17 straight games.

"He's such a good kid," Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said of Alzolay, who allowed one run with five strikeouts in four-plus innings on Thursday. "He's been through so much just with rehab stuff. And he's smart. He's got his head in the right place. We've just got to keep him locked in."

Worth noting

• Rizzo was out of the starting lineup on Saturday, but Maddon said it was a planned day off for the first baseman, who has logged more innings in the field (630 2/3) than any other Cubs player this season. The manager added that Baez will have a day off coming in the near future, too.

• Maddon noted that right-hander Kyle Hendricks (10-day injured list, right shoulder) was "doing wonderfully" on Saturday, one day after the pitcher played light catch. There is still no established timeline for Hendricks' return to the mound.

Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for MLB.com. He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian.