Kris Bryant was back to depositing balls into the Wrigley Field bleachers Saturday afternoon.
The third baseman took batting practice and fielded grounders prior to the Cubs’ thrilling 8-7 come-from-behind victory over the Reds on a perfect day for baseball on the North Side. Bryant is nearing a return to the lineup after missing the past two weeks with a sore left shoulder. Manager Joe Maddon said Bryant will go on a minor-league rehab assignment before he re-enters the Cubs’ lineup.
“(Bryant will) probably go out somewhere and gets some at bats,” Maddon said. “We didn’t determine how many and I want to leave that up to him. It’s basically, how do you feel? Are you seeing the ball well? And does your shoulder feel good? Those kind of things.”
When those questions are answered and Bryant returns to the Cubs, Maddon will again have to play Lineup Roulette on a daily basis. That means juggling the playing time—and positions—of the likes of Javier Baez, Ben Zobrist, Ian Happ, Albert Almora Jr. and Tommy La Stella, among others.
That is not an easy task and the occasional massaging of egos is needed.
“It is difficult (but) it’s a good difficult because you have good options,” Maddon said. “All the players are looking for is definition all the time and I can define it as best as I possibly can but there a lot of times guys still aren’t going to be happy with that. They want their at bats.
“It’s not like you’re bopping in and out veteran players who could use the rest,” Maddon added. “(Zobrist) is the outlier with that. He’s OK with the rest on occasion. The younger guys want to play so it is difficult and I try to balance it out. We have (11) guys with 100 plate appearances or more. That’s good stuff. It speaks to depth and it speaks to what we’re going to be able to do later on the season.”
While that depth comes in handy, it means Maddon has to put on his thinking cap when filling out each day’s lineup. The decisions on who plays and where go far beyond righty-lefty matchups. Take, for example, Maddon’s decisions on Saturday’s lineup.
“Writing it out today, I’m not using Albert, (I’m) wanting to use ‘Zo’ against (Reds starter Mart Harvey), Bryant being out (means) Happ goes to third but with (Tyler) Chatwood, the ball should be funneled more to the middle than the corners so I wanted Javy at second,:” Maddon said. “Those are things you think about.”
Cubs President Theo Epstein said having too many players who can be considered regulars is a good thing.
“Having essentially 10 regulars when we can only play eight can be the subject of a lot of questions early in the season and can occasionally lead to headaches but we have guys with amazing team-first attitudes that has kept everyone working hard and playing hard and feeling good about their role,” Epstein said. “And then as the season drags on, you really see the benefits of it.”