PITTSBURGH – Running a big-league team is dealing with one crisis after another, where the pregame optimism surrounding Willson Contreras gives way to worst-case thoughts about Jake Arrieta within a matter of hours.
But the Cubs were built upon layers and layers of talent, surviving and even thriving while Contreras has been on the disabled list with a strained right hamstring since Aug. 11.
Ramping up again, Contreras ran the bases during batting practice on Labor Day at PNC Park, another encouraging sign for a first-place team, at least until Arrieta exited his start in the middle of the third inning with a grabbing pain in his right leg.
One positive takeaway from a 12-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates: Arrieta believes this is more of a cramping problem than a serious hamstring injury. And the Cubs are planning to soon send out Contreras on a rehab assignment – assuming a minor-league affiliate is in the playoffs – or get their dynamic catcher up to speed through simulated games.
“He’s really close,” manager Joe Maddon said. “That’s pretty much it – the fact that they’re comfortable with the leg. Just the fact that the docs and the training staff are comfortable with him running to the point that if he ran in the game, he’s not going to hurt himself. So this is pretty much the last step.”
At this point in the recovery process, Maddon said the Cubs aren’t focused on the catching part of the equation and what the wear and tear behind the plate might do to Contreras: “That’s not an issue right now.”
The Cubs initially framed it as a four-to-six week timetable for Contreras (21 homers, 70 RBI, .861 OPS), who had been an emerging star and the most dangerous hitter in the lineup when he went down with what initially looked like it could have been a season-defining injury.
“I don’t want to place too many expectations on him coming back,” Maddon said. “The other guys have been pretty good. Alex (Avila) and Rene (Rivera) have filled in really well – homers, clutch hits, fine catching, blocking the ball well, handling our staff.
“It’s just another nice piece to have back. (But) of course, listen, this guy was hitting as well as anybody when he got hurt. His energy itself – in the game, behind the plate and how he interacts with the pitching staff – is going to help us.”