LOS ANGELES — Some of the best news the Cubs got all week was finding out Saturday when they got to the ballpark that catcher Willson Contreras was able to play after taking a 98-mph pitch off his left hand Friday night.
“Surprising,” manager David Ross said, lauding his All-Star catcher’s toughness. ”He’s built differently, man.”
He’d better be built tough, for Ross’ sake, considering the rest of the state of Cubs catching with more than half a season to play and October faintly visible on the horizon.
Because of injuries, the Cubs are down to their fourth backup catcher on the roster at this point: Jose Lobaton, who until this month had not played a big-league game in three years.
The Cubs remain on the lookout for outside options for the catching depth.
But, as Ross said Saturday “What I would tell you is that baseball’s thin across the board, everywhere.”
During a recent discussion on that subject, Ross said he asked about the organization’s top catching prospect only to learn that Miguel Amaya, too, was injured.
Amaya, the third-ranked prospect in the system, is on the minor-league injured list with a forearm strain and still in the rehab process.
Meanwhile, the Cubs’ original backup this season, Austin Romine, remains “a long ways away” as he recovers from a left wrist injury.
And the most recent backup before Lobaton, rookie P.J. Higgins? Turns out that second opinion on his elbow injury resulted in a decision to have Tommy John surgery in the coming weeks, sidelining him until sometime next season.
“That was sad,” Ross said of the freak injury and its surprising severity.
“We’ve got some — I wouldn’t say a lot of depth,” Ross said. “We’ve got a little bit.”
That includes Triple-A Iowa’s Tony Wolters, who was designated for assignment from the big-league roster last month but after going unclaimed by anyone else was outrighted to the minors.
Is it any wonder that Contreras has caught more innings than any other catcher in the majors this season by a wide margin — and that he might catch nine straight games before his next game off, if not 12 or more straight with an off day on the schedule Thursday?
“We’re trying to map that out to best take care of his body,” Ross said. “We converse as much as possible. When it starts to get stretched out [with consecutive games caught], he gives me good feedback. But I still check in with him after games.”
The night Contreras was hit on the hand — leaping in pain and tended to for several minutes by trainers — he told Ross to put him in Saturday’s lineup, pending early work with the training staff Saturday.
“I told Loby to be on heads-up in case he comes in super sore,” Ross said. “He was on the first bus, getting treatment. And I got a text in the morning before I even got here from the trainer and him that he was ready to go.
“It’s just such a blessing.”
It paid off quickly Saturday when Contreras threw out two runners at third — on a steal attempt in the second and pickoff in the fourth — changing the complexion of both innings and helping Alec Mills get through four innings allowing only two runs despite eight hits and two walks.
As for the steep dropoff to the next-man-up that is looking dangerously close to the ex-catcher manager: “I’m very thankful for the starting catcher we have, to say the least,” Ross said.