Willson Contreras' return from IL met by Kris Bryant's latest bout with knee soreness

Willson Contreras' return from IL met by Kris Bryant's latest bout with knee soreness

The Cubs lineup took an encouraging step towards full-strength on Tuesday, though it also hit a minor bump in the road along the way.

Ahead of their game against the Mariners, the Cubs activated catcher Willson Contreras (right hamstring strain) off of the 10-day injured list. However, this news was met by Kris Bryant (right knee soreness) getting scratched from the lineup pregame.

“A little hitch in the giddy up. We just got to watch it,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said pregame regarding Bryant. “I don’t think it’s anything awful.”

Bryant has been dealing with soreness in his right knee for an extended period now. He exited a game against the Giants on July 24 due to the ailment, though he didn’t hit the injured list.

With the Cubs having a rare Wednesday off this week, Bryant has two days to rest ahead of this weekend’s four-game series against the Brewers. And while Maddon didn’t sound too concerned Tuesday, he didn’t give a definitive timeline for his third baseman.

“Today off, tomorrow off and then we’ll see where we’re at by Thursday,” he said. “I have no real conjecture one way or the other at this point. I just talked to him; he didn’t sound like he’s in dire straits by any means. It’s just bothering him.”

On the other hand, Contreras, who strained his hamstring Aug. 3 against the Brewers, said he feels “120 percent.” He suffered a similar injury in 2017, missing a month.

“The first one was a little bit longer than this one,” Contreras said. “I worked out really hard with the training staff and we put up a tough plan, which we did, and we went to it, and now we’re here.”

Contreras admitted it wasn't easy sitting out for a month, though.

"It was tough especially when you know that you are able to do something for the team," he said. "Obviously, I wasn’t able to do something for my team because I was hurt.

"It was tough for me and the coaching staff, the players. But I’ve got to thank them because they had my back and [Victor Caratini and Jonathan Lucroy ] did a pretty good job when I wasn’t here."

Contreras, who hit just .143/.333/.286 in three games (seven at-bats) on his Triple-A rehab assignment, was able to do something for his team on Tuesday: the 27-year-old hit a home run in his first plate appearance.

While he’s back healthy, Contreras mentioned how his baserunning isn’t quite there yet.

“It’s been one month since I got hurt,” he said. “Obviously I’m running 80, 90 percent. Behind the plate I feel 100 percent, hitting I feel 100 percent.

“I want to be smart running the bases.”

The Cubs are in a good place with their catching depth. Between Victor Caratini, Jonathan Lucroy and the recently recalled Taylor Davis, the team has more than enough help behind the plate to allow Contreras to play elsewhere, or even sit from time-to-time, while he gets back into the groove of things.

Contreras said he’s ready to catch every day, though, and with the Cubs’ upcoming schedule, there’s a good chance for that to happen.

“When we get to the weekend, you got three nights and then the day game,” Maddon said. “The night games help, give him more recovery. [He] probably won’t play a night [game] before a day [game].

“Either choose the night game or the day game to play him over the weekend. Plays [Tuesday], day off [Wednesday]. I don’t see anything wrong with two-in-a-row and then deciding what happens after that.”

Other injury updates

Cubs starter Yu Darvish, who was scratched from his start on Sunday, threw before Tuesday’s game. Maddon said until he hears otherwise, the plan is for Darvish to pitch Saturday.

“We’re still planning on being able to pitch him on Saturday. That’s the game plan, so until I hear differently, that’s the way it’s going to play.”

Javier Baez missed a second-straight game Tuesday due to a jammed thumb, though he could play in Thursday’s series opener against the Brewers.

“He came in feeling a little bit better,” Maddon said. “He’s doing a little bit better, but again, I don’t know exactly. I’d like to believe he’ll be ready for Thursday, but I can’t tell you that for sure yet.”

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Nationals 'love' Kris Bryant but potential holdup could stymie trade talks

Nationals 'love' Kris Bryant but potential holdup could stymie trade talks

With Anthony Rendon officially joining the Angels, the Nationals have a vacancy at third base.

Washington has options to replace Rendon; Josh Donaldson is still available in free agency, and Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant could potentially be had via trade.

The Nationals have reportedly inquired with the Cubs about Bryant, and while they “love” the 27-year-old, their focus is on Donaldson, according to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman. The Cubs would likely seek center fielder Victor Robles in a deal, a holdup on Washington's end, Heyman said.

From the Cubs perspective, it would make all the sense in the world to ask for Robles. He’s 22 years old, plays excellent defense (22 DRS in 2019, No. 1 in MLB by center fielders) and is only scratching the surface as a big-leaguer. Robles is projected to be a star, but Bryant already is one. If the Nationals want Bryant badly enough, they’ll have to sacrifice talent in a deal.

On the other hand, it’s easy to understand why Washington would be unwilling to trade Robles, who's under team control through 2024. Bryant will hit free agency after 2021, but if he wins his ongoing grievance case, he'll hit the open market after next season.

Nonetheless, if the Nationals do engage in Bryant trade talks, you can bet the Cubs will at least ask for Robles in return. A trade could be worked out without him, but for a Cubs team searching for better center field production, you've got to wonder who could be more enticing than Robles.

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Willson Contreras and his boundless energy join Cubs All-Decade Team

Willson Contreras and his boundless energy join Cubs All-Decade Team

With the 2010s coming to a close, NBC Sports Chicago is unveiling its Cubs All-Decade Team, highlighting the players who made the biggest impacts on the organization from 2010-19.

It didn’t take long for Willson Contreras to introduce himself to Major League Baseball. On the first pitch he saw as a big-leaguer, the Cubs catcher cranked a two-run home run to center field — on Sunday Night Baseball, nonetheless.

That moment was a sign of things to come for Contreras, who has since established himself as one of the best catchers in baseball. The 27-year-old holds a career .267/.350/.470 line with a 117 wRC+ and 67 home runs in four seasons. He’s started back-to-back All-Star Games, the first Cubs catcher to do so since Gabby Hartnett (1937-38).

Contreras offers so much to the Cubs besides his bat. His cannon of an arm and athleticism behind the plate are integral to the Cubs controlling opposing run games. His pitch framing is a work in progress, and admittedly, he could improve in this area by throwing behind runners less, ensuring he gets strikes called.

However, back-picking is part of Contreras’ value. He may lose some strike calls by not sticking a frame, but there've been plenty of occasions where Contreras' arm has provided the Cubs with a spark. His boundless energy is unmeasurable, but its importance to the Cubs — who feed off of it — cannot be overstated.

There are areas where Contreras can improve, and that's a scary thought. But he's already is one of the best backstops in baseball and has earned the starting catcher spot on our Cubs All-Decade Team.

Also considered: Welington Castillo, Miguel Montero, David Ross, Geovany Soto