MILWAUKEE — Joe Maddon doesn’t believe the baseball world is flat, so the Cubs manager will keep batting Addison Russell ninth.
Russell’s 12-game hitting streak ended during Sunday’s 3-2, 11-inning loss to the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. He’s hit safely in 14 of his first 17 big-league games, getting more and more comfortable at this level and showing the natural talent that made him Baseball America’s No. 3 prospect heading into this season.
“This is a young player we’re trying to break in right now,” Maddon said. “I’m trying to optimize his opportunities. And I think by him hitting ninth, the only stigma attached to that is the fat little kid that used to play right field and hit ninth on the playground.
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“That’s where the stigma’s attached to it. It’s nothing to do with here. The batting order is a circular situation. It’s not the Columbus batting order that falls off the face of the earth. It keeps coming around and around and around.”
Russell is the youngest player in the National League at 21 years and 107 days and playing out of position at second base after rising so quickly through the minors as a shortstop. He’s also striking out about 43 percent of the time.
Russell has still generated two homers, six doubles and seven RBI since making his debuting on April 21. According to team historian Ed Hartig, the most recent Cubs rookie to hit safely in more than 12 straight games was Jerome Walton, who set a major-league rookie record with his 30-game hitting streak in 1989.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the last NL player to have a 12-game hitting streak (or better) exclusively out of the nine-hole was Pittsburgh Pirates left-handed pitcher Wilbur Cooper in 1924 (16 consecutive games).
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Maddon wasn’t even aware Russell had a hitting streak until a reporter mentioned it to him during his pregame media session in the dugout.
“Here’s what you have to understand about him hitting ninth,” Maddon said. “He’s not going to see any better pitches than he’s going to see hitting ninth. I don’t want to put him in the one-hole or the two-hole right now. I don’t want to lay that on him.
“If you put him seventh — or put him eighth and put the pitcher ninth — he’s going to see (fewer quality pitches). The whole game plan, in my mind’s eye, by hitting him ninth, is twofold: To be the second leadoff hitter, in a sense, with a lot less pressure on you (and) the potential to see better pitches, because 1, 2 and 3 are hitting behind you.
“That’s where people are failing to think this all the way through. They just see the pitcher hitting eighth: ‘Oh my God, hit the pitcher ninth, because it’s been done like that for the last 150 years.’ (But) by him hitting ninth, he’s going to see better stuff to hit.”