Jonathan Lucroy

Anthony Rizzo leaves Cubs game with injury

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USA TODAY

Anthony Rizzo leaves Cubs game with injury

In the midst of a second straight tough game against the Nationals, the Cubs were dealt another dose of bad news when Anthony Rizzo was forced out of the contest due to injury.

The first baseman was pinch-hit for in the bottom of the fifth inning with what the team called mid-back tightness. The Cubs did not have an update on his status immediately following the 7-2 loss.

Rizzo had walked the previous inning and was stranded on third base when a full-count pitch to Ian Happ was called a strike:

Rizzo made an error in each of the first two innings of the game, throwing a ball into left field when second base wasn't being covered and then dropping a throw from Javy Baez to begin the second inning.

Rizzo has dealt with back issues throughout his career, including a stint where he missed four games in mid-May.

Jonathan Lucroy hit for Rizzo in the fifth inning and doubled home the Cubs' second run of the game. He stayed in to catch while Victor Cartaini moved from behind the plate to first base.

The Cubs were already operating with a short bench since they currently have a nine-man bullpen and they had already utilized Happ off the bench earlier in the game (he was later ejected after the controversial call).

Willson Contreras progressing, but still no timeline for return to Cubs

Willson Contreras progressing, but still no timeline for return to Cubs

Before the Cubs hosted the San Francisco Giants on Day 2 of American Legion Week, Willson Contreras was out in left field running and working out his injured right hamstring.

The All-Star catcher hit the injured list earlier this month after hitting a line drive to the gap against the Milwaukee Brewers. 

That was two-and-a-half weeks ago and the Cubs initially tabbed the Grade-2 hamstring strain as a roughly four-week timeline. But team president Theo Epstein said Wednesday Contreras is not nearing a rehab stint.

"He's in what our trainers are calling the aggressive strengthening phase of his rehab, which is building up the hamstring strength now that he's gotten through the initial injury," Epstein said. "Always what comes with that is the strength deficit that you have to really be mindful of building back up so that you don't risk reinjuring it when you get back to full baseball activities. 

"You're gonna see him on the field a lot more over the next few days and hopefully soon he'll be progressing to baseball activities. He's not on the cusp of starting a rehab assignment or anything like that. He hasn't really progressed to baseball activities yet, so that will be the next step."

The minor-league season wraps up in the first couple days of September, so Contreras won't have much of an opportunity to get game at-bats and innings at catcher if he isn't able to head on a rehab stint soon.

But the Cubs won't rush it with one of their most important players. Contreras was hitting .275 with 19 homers, 57 RBI and an .890 OPS in 87 games before the injury.

In his absence, the Cubs have been pretty well covered with Victor Caratini and Jonathan Lucroy splitting duties behind the dish.

Lucroy - acquired Aug. 8 after being released by the Los Angeles Angels - is hitting .333 with a .798 OPS in 7 games and has impressed with his work as a game-caller and veteran presence. Caratini continues to put up quality at-bats while building on his breakout campaign.

Cubs add some catching depth in the form of Jonathan Lucroy

Cubs add some catching depth in the form of Jonathan Lucroy

The Cubs are adding a veteran catcher to the mix in the form of Jonathan Lucroy.

Lucroy, 33, was designated for assignment last week and after he cleared waivers, the Angels released him, officially making him a free agent as of Wednesday afternoon. The team confirmed the move after the 10-1 win over the A's, sending Taylor Davis back down to Triple-A Iowa to create room on the roster.

Lucroy is expected to be available for the Cubs Thursday in Cincinnati as they begin an 11-day, 10-game road trip. 

"I've heard a lot of wonderful things about him," Joe Maddon said. "He adds that veteran mix behind the plate that I think is really important, especially this time of the year. ... He can swing the bat. He knows what he's doing back there. Cole Hamels played with him in Texas, for example, and he spoke very highly of him, too. 

"So we're really excited to get a player of that caliber right now with everything that's going on for us. We're pretty fortunate."

The Cubs needed some more catching for the stretch run after Willson Contreras injured his hamstring in Saturday's game. The two-time All-Star starter underwent an MRI Monday and is looking at a four-week timeline. This is the same injury he had in August and September of 2017 when he missed about a month.

Lucroy signed with the Angels over the winter on a one-year, $3.35 million deal but since he was released, the Cubs would not have to cover the prorated portion of that contract. With this being the first year of no August waiver trades around Major League Baseball and Contreras' injury coming just after the July deadline, the Cubs' options were limited at adding another backstop from outside the organization, but it worked out in their favor that Lucroy hit the market.

The veteran missed most of July after suffering a concussion on a brutal collision with Houston's Jake Marisnick at home plate:

He returned from the injured list July 31 and played one game before being designated for assignment.

Lucroy hit .242 with a .681 OPS, 7 homers and 30 RBI in 74 games in L.A. and it's been a little while since he was above average offensively (even for a catcher). He made the All-Star team with the Brewers in 2016 and was traded to the Rangers in the middle of that year, finishing with 24 homers, 81 RBI and an .855 OPS. 

Back in 2014, Lucroy led the NL with 53 doubles and finished fourth in MVP voting with Milwaukee.

Lucroy doesn't strike out much at the plate and could form a nice platoon with Victor Caratini, whom the Cubs prefer to face right-handed pitchers. Lucroy also provides more depth and a veteran presence who has been to the postseason four times.

He already comes with some experience with the Cubs pitching staff, as he's already logged more than 100 innings behind the plate for three Cubs pitchers — Hamels (111), Yu Darvish (129.1) and Brandon Kintzler (132.1). In fact, no catcher has worked more with Kintzler in-game and only one other catcher (Geovany Soto) has been behind the plate more in Darvish's MLB career.

Regardless of how he hits, he figures to be a valuable addition to help manage the pitching staff and give the Cubs experience at the most important defensive position in the middle of a tight playoff race. Plus, it's added protection against injury, as Caratini has taken a couple of dings to his wrists/forearms in recent games.

"Obviously a guy who's been around for a long time, has a lot of history against the Cubs. Glad to bring him over here and have him come in and get his perspective on a lot of things and win some ballgames," Kyle Schwarber said.

Given Contreras' timeline, he probably wouldn't return before Sept. 1 when rosters expand, so the Cubs could conceivably work him back slowly with Caratini and Lucroy still on the roster.