Cubs

Cubs putting Addison Russell on the fast track

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Cubs putting Addison Russell on the fast track

PITTSBURGH – The Cubs appear to be putting Addison Russell on the fast track.

Now that Kris Bryant is in The Show, Russell becomes the main attraction at Triple-A Iowa, where he’s moved from shortstop to second base, getting ready for his own potential call-up.

It looks like the Cubs are clearing a path for Russell, who entered this season as Baseball America’s No. 3 prospect and a challenger to All-Star shortstop Starlin Castro.

Exposing Russell to second base reminds you of the message Ryan Theriot once sent to Castro: Come and get it.

“We’re just trying to give him that opportunity to play there,” manager Joe Maddon said Monday at PNC Park. “Personally, I like guys like that playing a bunch of different spots in the minor leagues, if you can, because you never know where the need’s going to be on the major-league level.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

“It’s just being a little bit more proactive regarding prepping him for a need that may be open here. So, yeah, you could surmise that (we) might do that. But it’s not a lock. It’s just a matter of like expanding his infield horizons.”

The Cubs clearly could use an upgrade at second base. Combined, Arismendy Alcantara and Jonathan Herrera entered Monday hitting .125 (6-for-48) with zero extra-base hits. Tommy La Stella (rib cage) is on the disabled list. Javier Baez is on a leave of absence from the Iowa affiliate after the death of his sister.

Russell, 21, could become an offensive spark. He’s hitting .318 (14-for-44) with nine RBI in his first 11 games with Iowa. He also got rave reviews in spring training for his slick defense and mature clubhouse demeanor.

“He’s making the transition,” Iowa manager Marty Pevey told The Des Moines Register. “He’ll be a full-time second baseman right now, but he’s a big-league shortstop.”

The Cubs can use this season to see which young players step forward – and which ones go backward – and then reassess everything this winter.

Castro began the day leading the team with 14 hits. He’s still a three-time All-Star who just turned 25 and remains under club control through 2020. That’s the type of player you can build around.

Castro seems energized by the possibility of playing for a contender – and playing with blue-chip talents like Russell.

“Right now, Starlin’s playing a great shortstop,” Maddon said. “I think Starlin’s playing really well, offensively, defensively. Everything he’s doing is really high-caliber right now.

[ALSO: Cubs expect Lester's first good start to come soon]

“I just think you need to keep a young player coming up. (If) you think his bat may be ready to play here, you got to get him a position to play.”

It looks like rough times are ahead for Brewers relief ace Josh Hader

It looks like rough times are ahead for Brewers relief ace Josh Hader

The Brewers' best pitcher is in some serious hot water before the second half of the MLB season gets underway.

As he was serving up a 3-run homer in the All-Star Game Tuesday night, Josh Hader's Tweets from 2011 were aired publicly and the result was...not good.

Hader's Tweets as a 17-year-old reflected racist and homophobic remarks, among other issues. (A summary of his Tweets can be found at Deadspin.)

After the All-Star Game, Hader was immediately put in front of reporters to respond to the Tweets and admitted he will accept any punishment that comes his way — including any possible suspension:

Regardless of whether or not he misses any game action for this (a suspension here would be rather unprecedented for MLB, but the world is certainly changing), this absolutely could affect Hader mentally moving forward. 

Case in point:

He can ask teammate Ryan Braun how to deal when fans turn on you, but it's going to be a lot more difficult for a 24-year-old in his first full big-league season to deal with any hate that comes down. 

Hader has been the Brewers' most valuable pitcher all season, going 2-0 with a 1.50 ERA, 0.79 WHIP and a ridiculous 16.7 K/9. 

But over the last month-plus, he's been...human.

Ever since Jason Heyward turned on a 98 mph Hader fastball to tie the game in Milwaukee on June 11, the Brewers' relief ace has a 2.84 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 13.5 K/9.

Still great numbers, to be sure, but not the Superman-esque line baseball fans came to expect from Hader after the first couple months of 2018. (Plus, the All-Star Game homer he served up to Jean Segura, but that obviously doesn't count for anything.)

With the Brewers already chasing the Cubs by 2.5 games in the division in the second half, they can't afford Hader's slump to worsen.

Though Cubs fans may be rooting for that...

It might have been just another dinger in homer-happy All-Star Game, but Willson Contreras will remember it forever

It might have been just another dinger in homer-happy All-Star Game, but Willson Contreras will remember it forever

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Willson Contreras’ third-inning home run might not have ended up standing out too much in an All-Star Game featuring a jaw-dropping and record-shattering 10 dingers.

But, obviously, it will always stand out to the guy who hit it.

“I enjoyed every single second that I spent out there.”

Remarkably, Contreras repeated his feat from two seasons ago, when he hit his first big league homer on the first big league pitch he ever saw. Ditto on Tuesday night at Nationals Park, when he launched the first pitch he saw as an All Star out over the wall in left field.

“When I hit the ball and thought it was gone, I went back to 2016, playing in Chicago. It was the same thing, first pitch for a homer,” Contreras, all smiles, said following the American League’s 8-6 victory. “I’m really blessed with these kinds of situations. Those moments, they’re going to be history and they’re going to be in my mind and my heart.”

Contreras’ long ball was the highlight of the evening for fans watching back home in Chicago. Javy Baez got a hit in his first All-Star at-bat but was outdone by his teammate. White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu was hitless in his two trips to the plate.

And while it will be a highlight on this night for Cubs fans, it will be a highlight forever for Contreras, who enjoyed the heck out of his first All-Star experience.

“‘I did it, I did it,’” he said when asked what was going through his head. “I knew it was something special. And I wasn’t trying to do too much because these guys are nasty, throwing 98 in the first inning. I just tried to get the hit out.”

The nasty guy he went deep against was Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Blake Snell, whose 2.27 ERA on the season made him a very worthy inclusion on the AL roster. But Contreras was more impressed with the guy who started the game for the National League, raving about Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer after the game.

“He was great, man. Great stuff, he gets so into the game,” Contreras said. “I would like to have him one day on my team or play with him for a few years. That guy is amazing.”

That’s not the current Nationals star Cubs fans are dreaming about, Willy, but point taken.

But it wasn’t Snell or Scherzer or even Baez or Jon Lester, also in the NL dugout, who Contreras was thinking about the most during his home run trot. Instead, Contreras was thinking about his grandfather, Ernesto, who passed away a few years ago.

“My grandpa, he died in 2015,” Contreras said. “I grew up with him.

“He didn’t play ball. But I feel like every time I go out there and step into the box, he’s at my back. It just feels amazing when you hit a homer or do something special, look at the sky and you know that he’s there smiling somewhere.”

It all made for a pretty incredible night for Contreras, who has officially and loudly taken his place among baseball’s best on the game’s biggest stage.

The only thing that was missing? The ball.

Yeah, Contreras didn’t get the ball, not that he really expected to. But if you’ve got it, he wants it.

“I don’t think they’re giving it back,” he said with a grin.

We’ll see. Social media’s a powerful tool. So reach out.