Cubs manager Joe Maddon is trying to defuse any shortstop controversy involving Addison Russell and Javier Baez, framing his lineup decisions with big-picture ideas like rest, rhythm and matchups.
But what if this up-the-middle rotation evolves and Baez becomes a more consistent offensive force to go with his game-changing defensive skills? Where would that leave Russell when – for whatever reason – he’s not playing like an All-Star shortstop?
“I’m not looking to do that, honestly,” Maddon said Wednesday at Wrigley Field. “The one thing Addison really has and does well is that he does the routine routinely. He normally doesn’t make any mistakes, which I really appreciate that about him.
“Javy’s got all the flair in the world. He’s really good. I’m not denying that. But it comes down to the nuts and bolts for me. I’ve talked about the first time I saw Addison take groundballs in spring training a couple years ago. I was kind of like going crazy. I asked him: ‘Who taught you?’ Because his mechanics are so good.
“Javy will have his tendency to stay back on the ball. Addison’s always playing through the ball. When it goes to his right, Addie has a really good ability to put his right foot down and make that throw. There are little things that Addison does at shortstop. He’s so perfectly taught.”
Baez still started at shortstop for the 12th time that night against the Miami Marlins – after making only 21 starts there all last season. Baez has a more classic shortstop arm than Russell and his instincts and range at second base have drawn comparisons to Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar.
Russell also isn’t performing like the guy FanGraphs credited with 19 defensive runs saved last year. He’s committed six errors through 50 games this season – after making 14 in 148 games last year – and not throwing with quite the same accuracy. The clutch hitter who put up 21 homers and 95 RBI during his age-22 season is now batting .209 with a .626 OPS.
“He’s going to be back,” Maddon said. “As long as he’s healthy and well, he’s going to look like that again. I saw it way too much over the last two years. I can’t deny it – he has not played up to his standards to this point. But I have a lot of faith in this guy, because his mechanics, his fundamentals are that good for me.”