PITTSBURGH – From team president Theo Epstein to manager Joe Maddon to a hands-off clubhouse, the Cubs can’t – or won’t – stop Javy Being Javy.
It doesn’t matter that All-Star shortstop Addison Russell (plantar fasciitis/strained right foot) has been sidelined since early August and may not return until late September. Javier Baez understands the danger in trying to modulate his game and worrying too much about what he means to the defending World Series champs in the big picture.
“If I pay attention to that, I think that’s the way I get hurt,” Baez said. “I got to play like I’m playing. That’s one thing that Theo told me (before) one of the years I played winter ball.
“I’m just going to do what I do. Obviously, play hard. And if anything happens, there would be a reason for it.”
The Cubs scratched Baez from their Labor Day lineup with a sore left thumb he jammed during Sunday’s headfirst slide into Atlanta Braves second baseman Ozzie Albies. Baez crashed into Albies’s left knee, leaving him with blurry vision in his left eye for about 15 minutes.
Baez didn’t go into Major League Baseball’s concussion protocol and didn’t stay overnight at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. He fully expects to be back in the lineup on Tuesday night against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park.
“Everything’s good,” Baez said. “Everything’s back to normal now.”
In case of emergency, the Cubs signed Mike Freeman to a minor-league deal in early August. Freeman made a spot start during Monday’s 12-0 loss at shortstop, where super-utility guy Ben Zobrist eventually slid over from second base. But on a playoff-caliber team, the drop-off is so steep from Russell and Baez, who just put together one of the best all-around months (.290 average, seven homers, 21 runs scored, 25 RBI) of his career.
So Baez will keep following his instincts and using the daring, aggressive style that made him a breakout star during last year’s postseason.
“Don’t ask people to back off – that’s when you’re going to get hurt,” Maddon said. “Let guys go play. It’s a rough game. It’s a tough game. Things happen. But if you’re trying to protect yourself, you’re never going to play a good game.
“I would never ask him to hold back at any time. He’s wonderful. He’s getting better on a daily basis. You can see how important he is to us right now.”