With catching depth suddenly a concern, could Cubs turn to Kyle Schwarber behind the plate?

With catching depth suddenly a concern, could Cubs turn to Kyle Schwarber behind the plate?

No more than five minutes after Willson Contreras came up hobbling in Saturday's Cubs win, there was Kyle Schwarber with a catcher's glove in hand.

Schwarber jumped at the chance to squat behind home plate, even if only to warm up a couple of Cubs relievers in between innings while Victor Caratini — Contreras' replacement — got his gear on after hitting.

You better believe Schwarber has been in Joe Maddon's ear, reminding him he can catch while the Cubs' depth is being tested with Contreras out for the next month with a Grade-2 hamstring strain.

"Oh he wants to play, man," Maddon said, laughing. "He came in after the game [Sunday] and talked to me about actually starting a game. He's ready to roll."

Maddon confirmed Schwarber would serve as the Cubs' emergency catcher over the next few weeks — a position he already filled even when Contreras was healthy. 

The team currently has Caratini and Taylor Davis for depth and will likely add a veteran from outside the organization in some capacity. 

Schwarber came up as a part-time catcher in the Cubs system, playing 72 games and more than 623 innings at the position. He also caught 21 games (15 starts) in his rookie season of 2015 before blowing out his knee in the collision with Dexter Fowler in April 2016. 

Since then, Schwarber has not started a game at catcher in the big leagues, only seeing four appearances and seven total innings behind the dish (all of which came in 2017). 

While the position's defensive requirements are obviously important, the Cubs also have to find a way to match the offense Contreras was putting up from the catcher spot (.890 OPS). 

The lineup has been inconsistent all year, so would it be crazy to see the team get creative and put Schwarber at catcher and somebody like Ian Happ or Albert Almora Jr. in the outfield for an offensive-minded group? The Cubs could always swap out Schwarber for defensive purposes late in games and insert Davis or Caratini.

The short answer: Don't expect to see that.

"I think he'd like that," GM Jed Hoyer said with a smile. "I think we've always felt good about having that as a third catcher if something happened. Most teams have an infielder or something like that, but we have a guy that did it a lot in the minor leagues. He can certainly do it.

"I've always thought the challenge with that kind of thing is the bullpen. It's one thing to catch the starters; it's another thing to catch a series of relievers coming into the game throwing 97 mph. It's a lot different than playing in left field.

"He would do a good job if we needed him, but our goal here is to keep him healthy and keep his bat in the lineup. We made that decision to move him out from behind there for that reason."

Like Hoyer said, the Cubs haven't really considered Schwarber a catcher for years. Even before the devastating knee injury, they weren't sure he'd stick long-term at the most demanding defensive position on the field.

But hey, as Maddon always says, "necessity is the mother of invention," so maybe don't rule anything out over these next few weeks...

Sports Talk Live Podcast: The guys react to the breaking news of Rizzo returning to the lineup


Sports Talk Live Podcast: The guys react to the breaking news of Rizzo returning to the lineup

David Haugh, Hub Arkush and Phil Rogers join Kap on the panel.

0:00- The guys react to the breaking news of Anthony Rizzo returning to the lineup just four days after his brutal ankle injury. Plus they preview the huge Cubs/Cardinals showdown.

12:30- Mitch Trubisky says his offense believes they can turn things around. Will they?

20:30- NBC Sports Washington's JP Finlay joins Kap to provide a scouting report on the Redskins.

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Cubs lose Cole Hamels to injury right as Craig Kimbrel returns

Cubs lose Cole Hamels to injury right as Craig Kimbrel returns

During his pregame press conference Thursday, Cubs manager Joe Maddon shared a laugh about his club’s NFL-esque injury report with one reporter.

“Questionable, probable,” Maddon said with a smile about his team’s long list of injury updates.

As funny as the moment was, there was some truth to it. Ahead of Thursday’s series opener against the Cardinals, the Cubs announced that:

-They activated Craig Kimbrel (elbow) off the 10-day injured list and Addison Russell off the concussion IL
-Cole Hamels will miss his start on Saturday due to left shoulder fatigue

To add to the fun, the Cubs announced 20 minutes before Thursday’s game that Anthony Rizzo was returning to the starting lineup just four days after badly spraining his right ankle.

Got all that?

While the Rizzo announcement was shocking, the Hamels news came as a surprise. The 35-year-old has struggled since returning from an oblique strain on Aug. 3, holding a 6.39 ERA in his last nine starts. He’s failed to pitch five innings in five of those games, including the last three.

Maddon didn’t express terrible concern over Hamels missing this weekend’s start, though he pointed out how the team has to be careful with injuries this time of year, as an extended absence could be the end of one’s season.

“Eh, I shouldn’t say heavily concerned, but anytime a guy like that says it’s bothering him a bit, you have to absolutely believe it,” Maddon said. “Especially at this time of the year, how much he loves to compete and play right now.

“There’s always some concern with that. We’ll just take his word and what the doctors have to say and then try and get him back as quickly as possible.

“If Cole says he’s hurting, he’s hurting, man.”

The Cubs expect Hamels to start next week, but whether that comes against the Pirates or the Cardinals is to be determined. Point being, the Cubs want to make sure Hamels is good to go before throwing him into the fold.

“I don’t know yet. I had a great conversation with him,” Maddon said. “This guy is so straight forward, pragmatic and honest. Let’s just continue to work with it daily and then see where it takes us.”

Maddon also mentioned how Hamels not starting this weekend has some positive repercussions. Not only does it give him extra rest, but the same can be said about Jose Quintana, who originally was slated to pitch Friday but will now start Saturday. Alec Mills – who has quietly been pitching well – will now start on Friday. Starting Mills also means Tyler Chatwood can stay in the hybrid relief role he has succeed in lately.

“Combined with the fact that Cole’s not doing that well, Alec has been pitching well and it gives Q one extra day," Maddon said. "All those things are in a way positive that we can fit it in this way. Having Alec throwing as well as he has to fit in there and not have to take Chatwood out of the role that we’ve got him in right now is also very helpful.

"You saw what Tyler did last night. Part of that little quick dab in and out last night is so that we can possibly use him more often. In a weird way, having this great depth that’s able to cover these particular maladies, I think we’re covered."

Kimbrel didn’t go on a rehab assignment, as the seasons of the Cubs minor league affiliates all have concluded. However, like Hamels, Kimbrel knows his body best and therefore, Maddon trusted that his closer was ready to return.

“I was very encouraged, from what I saw yesterday," Maddon said. “I thought he looked pretty normal, and again, when you talk to the guy conversationally, it’s very upbeat.

“He feels really good about himself, and he knows better than anybody how good he feels. I’m eager about it.”

Kimbrel returns to a Cubs bullpen that stepped up big time in his absence. Entering Thursday, the Cubs ranked No. 1 in MLB with a 2.35 ERA by relievers in September. Kimbrel’s numbers this season aren’t eye-popping – 21 games, 5.68 ERA, 1.53 WHIP, 13-of-15 in save opportunities – but his impact on the Cubs bullpen goes beyond numbers.

Rather than go with a committee approach, Kimbrel gives the Cubs a bonafide closing option. In turn, the likes of Steve Cishek, Rowan Wick, Chatwood and Brandon Kintzler – who is nearing a return and will throw a bullpen session Thursday or Friday – can pitch earlier in games, lengthening the Cubs bullpen.

“When that happens, that permits us to move it back…Chatwood becomes available earlier, Rowan becomes available earlier. They all become available earlier, which lengthens the whole thing out.

“But when you have that one guy at the end that you know is at the end, all of a sudden, these first eight innings [are[ wide open, man. Just go for it.

With the season winding down, it’s all hands on deck for the Cubs. With a playoff spot still in reach, go for it they shall.

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