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Addison Russell not assured to start at shortstop over Javier Baez when he returns to Cubs

Mark Gonzales, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Baseball

CHICAGO -- During a nine-game stretch, shortstop Javier Baez has created a pleasant problem for a resurgent Cubs team with his glove as well as his bat.

Baez's all-around performance, which included another strong throw to retire Joc Pederson and a three-run game-tying home run, has provided pause to thoughts of moving him off shortstop when Addison Russell is reinstated from his 40-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball's domestic abuse policy.

"That's still a discussion we have to have," manager Joe Maddon said late Wednesday night after Baez turned in another spectacular performance that sparked the Cubs to a 7-6 comeback win over the Dodgers. "We got to wait and see how well Addison does. We don't want that jump the gun kind of thing without discussing in detail with the players themselves. But Javy has been doing well.

"It's a great problem to have."

Baez was 16 for 37 (.432) with 10 extra-base hits and 11 RBIs in his past nine games heading into Thursday's game against the Dodgers.

Baez's three-run home run, his eighth, occurred as Russell was wrapping up his first game on a rehab assignment for Triple-A Iowa, where he went 1 for 4 with two runs scored and a stolen base against Nashville.

According to the Des Moines Register, Russell was cheered during each of his four at-bats.

Russell played shortstop Wednesday, but Baez's array of talents at shortstop have raised eyebrows about the thought of moving him to second, where he played brilliantly before Russell was placed on administrative leave on Sept. 21.

Cubs management has been conservative in assessing Russell's progress. Russell is eligible to be activated on May 3, but there are questions as to where he fits best on a team that has won seven of its past eight games with Baez leading the way at the plate, on the field and in the clubhouse.

"You can't read about him," said Jason Heyward, who provided his own theatrics with a three-run, tiebreaking homer shortly after Baez hit his game-tying shot. "That's what I feel like. He's special. You got to watch him. You got to watch what he's doing, watch what he's thinking on the field. It's exciting, but he's always thinking ahead. He's always not giving up on a play, always doing what he can to win.

"Any kind of advantage you can get during any moment of the game is huge, especially in a close game. He does that with his glove. He does that with his bat. He does that running the bases and does that in the clubhouse for us. It's huge. It's special to have someone like that.

"We have a lot of special guys like that, but Javy is Javy."

 

Left-hander Cole Hamels, who was taken off the hook after Baez hit his home run, said Baez "makes it look easy."

"I've been very fortunate to have some very good shortstops that have won some MVPs (Jimmy Rollins) and had some great careers (two-time All-Star Elvis Andrus)," Hamels said. "I'd say he's right in line with those guys.

"It's nice to have a guy like that because you want to be able to count on your shortstop with the amount of plays."

Russell played shortstop in the minors but was promoted to the majors in April 2015 as a second baseman and stayed there until Starlin Castro was benched in early August.

Russell remained at short and has exceptional range, but Baez has the same range and a more powerful arm. At the same time, Daniel Descalso and David Bote have provided key contributions at second base and at the plate.

It's difficult to determine Russell's value to the Cubs.

But for now, their biggest looming issue in the midst of their winning stretch is finding where Russell fits best as Baez leads the offense with 21 RBIs -- including 15 with two out.

(c)2019 Chicago Tribune

Visit the Chicago Tribune at www.chicagotribune.com

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