PHOENIX – When asked about Javier Baez, Matt Szczur and the looming roster decision, Cubs manager Joe Maddon went with a time-tested cliché: “The game has this cruel way of making its own decisions.”
Baez experienced another setback this week while trying to come back from a thumb injury, getting hit by a pitch that buzzed the extended earflap on his helmet during a game in extended spring training. That makes it unlikely he will be ready for Monday’s home opener at Wrigley Field.
“I doubt it right now,” Maddon said, making the prediction before Kyle Schwarber’s hard-to-watch outfield collision during Thursday’s 14-6 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field. “(Javy’s) not really progressed a whole lot. There are still some things going on.”
Baez, who has been working out at the team’s complex in nearby Mesa, described it as a “scary moment,” posted the video on his Instagram account and promised “will be back soon.”
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Maddon didn’t know if Baez – a versatile infielder/outfielder the Cubs hope can become the next Ben Zobrist – would be available for the six-game opening homestand against the Cincinnati Reds and Colorado Rockies.
Maddon framed it as a matter of Baez taking it slow and needing to get more at-bats – and not an issue with the left thumb contusion that kept him off the Opening Day roster.
That opened the door for Szczur, the former Villanova University football/baseball athlete who’s out of minor-league options and making a strong impression as a role player who can pinch-run and be a defensive replacement in the outfield.
While his Wildcats won the NCAA tournament, Szczur is trying to play his way off the bubble, showing some pop by going 3-for-5 with a double, homer and four RBI during a two-game sweep of the Los Angeles Angels.
“I’m going to say it over and over again: We’re here to win,” Szczur said. “Coming off the bench or starting, I’m going to help the team win any way I can.”