Cubs

Injury updates on Willson Contreras, Addison Russell and Jake Arrieta

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USA TODAY

Injury updates on Willson Contreras, Addison Russell and Jake Arrieta

Willson Contreras and Addison Russell are both making progress from their injuries while Jake Arrieta (hamstring) continues to rest.

Out with a strained right hamstring since Aug. 9, Contreras is set to serve as the designated hitter in his second and final game on Friday with Class-A Myrtle Beach. The Cubs catcher went 0-for-2 with a strikeout on Thursday.

After Friday's game though, the Cubs will have to find a new way for Contreras to keep his rehab assignment going, since the Pelicans' season ends. Contreras will fly back to Chicago on Saturday and be evaluated, according to the Cubs.

As for Addison Russell, the Cubs shortstop "pain-free" and doing light jogging. Russell was placed on the disabled list on Aug. 3 with a strained right foot and plantar fasciitis but re-aggravated his foot on Aug. 31.

When Russell is ready to rehab, the Cubs are anticipating a simulated game with all minor league teams finished with their season.

"You just try to be creative with him and watch him ask him questions and how you feel and that kind of stuff," said manager Joe Maddon. "It’s difficult, but then again we did it with (Kyle) Schwarber last year. Although I guess he did participate a little bit out west so you just have to be imaginative and get it done somehow. The big thing is health and then you just watch him."

The timeline hasn't changed for Russell, who is one week into his three-week recovery period. The Cubs haven't made any decisions on whether or not the 23-year-old can come back early, given that he is pain-free.

"I haven’t talked to the trainers about that at all actually," Maddon said. "But we’ve been shooting for that moment where he’s said something like that and he said it, so that’s good. But I’ll wait to hear from (Cubs athletic trainer PJ Mainville) but we have no accelerated anything as of right now."

If you can't wait for baseball to be back, take a look at the Cubs' spring training schedule

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USA TODAY

If you can't wait for baseball to be back, take a look at the Cubs' spring training schedule

Set your alarm, there are only three more months till baseball is back.

The Cubs announced their spring training schedule Monday, getting folks all amped up for the 34 exhibition games in February and March.

Spring game action gets started Feb. 23 out in Arizona, with the Cubs taking on the Milwaukee Brewers to kick off Cactus League play. The Cubs' first home spring game at Sloan Park in Mesa comes the next day, Feb. 24.

In addition to a 32-game Cactus League slate, the Cubs will take on the Cleveland Indians in a pair of exhibition games in Las Vegas. That 2016 World Series rematch comes March 17 and 18.

And of course, there will be three meetings with the White Sox, as both Chicago teams play their spring schedule out in Arizona. Those "Cactus Crosstown" games will be played Feb. 27 and March 10 in Mesa and March 16 in Glendale.

Here's the full schedule:

What if Jake Arrieta stays in the NL Central and repeatedly haunts the Cubs?

What if Jake Arrieta stays in the NL Central and repeatedly haunts the Cubs?

Jake Arrieta in a Brewers uniform?

That's not a sight Cubs fans would like to see, but the North Siders' I-94 rivals are apparently keen on trying to add Arrieta, the free-agent pitcher who's been one of the National League's top arms for the past several seasons.

The Cubs have their own decision to make on whether or not they're going to pursue re-signing Arrieta, a guy who over the past three seasons has posted a 2.71 ERA and struck out 589 batters, winning 54 games in 94 starts for a team that won the 2016 World Series and has advanced to three consecutive NL Championship Series.

The downside to losing Arrieta is obvious, as the Cubs would lose a huge part of their formidable starting rotation, but there would be an added downside if Arrieta were to remain in the NL Central and repeatedly haunt his former team.

Given Arrieta's track record, adding him would make sense for any team in the majors, but the Brewers in particular could use a front-of-the-line starting pitcher to boost their chances of besting the Cubs for the Central crown. The Brew Crew staged a surprising threat to do just that in 2017, perhaps proving that their rebuilding effort has yielded fruit ahead of schedule.

But there are questions in that rotation, with Jimmy Nelson expected to miss time next season after having shoulder surgery. Chase Anderson was great last season, and Zach Davies was solid, too. Brewers starters posted an ERA of 4.10 on the season, good for fifth in the NL. The four teams ahead of them, including the Cubs, all made the playoffs. Adding an arm as good as Arrieta's could make the difference in jumping past the Cubs in the Central and getting the Crew to the postseason for the first time since 2011.

And it'd be a plus for the Brewers to make it so Arrieta couldn't shut down their hitters anymore. In 15 career starts against the Crew, Arrieta is 8-4 with a 2.74 ERA. However, they'd surely love to have him call Miller Park home. He's never lost there in five starts, boasting a 2.03 ERA with 30 strikeouts.

There's an argument to be made that Arrieta would be able to seek revenge on the Cubs no matter what team he ends up pitching for, be it an NL team facing off against the Cubs in the playoffs or an American League squad meeting the Cubs in the World Series. After all, as Scott Boras put it, signing Arrieta is a ticket to "Playoffville."

But should Arrieta make the short drive to Wisconsin and set up shop in America's Dairyland, turning the Brewers into a legitimate playoff contender and challenger to the Cubs' grip on the NL Central crown? Well, consider the Cubs-Brewers rivalry cranked up to 11.