Chicago Cubs veteran Ben Zobrist is close to returning from a neck injury he called ‘unmanageable’ that sidelined him for the past week.
Heading into the final week of Cactus League action, the Chicago Cubs are hoping to get some key pieces back on the field in Ben Zobrist and Addison Russell.
Zobrist has been sidelined with a nagging neck issue while Russell has missed time with back stiffness that is not believed to be serious.
Both are key pieces for the reigning World Series champions, who open their title defense in less than a week at Busch Stadium against the St. Louis Cardinals.
‘‘At the beginning of [last] week, it was unmanageable,’’ Zobrist told the Sun-Times Sunday. ‘‘But now I’m out on the field doing stuff [before the game]. So I’ll probably play in the game [Monday]. If not, Tuesday. And I’ll have at least three or four exhibition games before we start the season.’’
The two-time World Series champion is entering his second year of a four-year contract he signed prior to the 2016 campaign. He slashed .272/386/.446 in his first season with the Cubs, earning an All-Star selection in the process.
Throughout Chicago’s World Series run, Zobrist shifted to left field, filling in for Kyle Schwarber, who could not play the field following his devastating knee injury. With Schwarber back in the swing of things, Zobrist will undoubtedly see time all over the diamond in 2017.
Cubs have the depth to withstand
Bringing a strong on-base mentality to the heart of the Cubs’ order, Zobrist brings a calm veteran presence to a team that still ranks amongst the youngest in the game. Should injuries sideline him, though, depth exists to cover the loss.
Javier Baez, who started every postseason game at second base, is a key for the team. He took home co-NLCS MVP honors last year. More recently, he also led Team Puerto Rico to a second-place WBC finish.
Should Tommy La Stella break camp with the big-league club, he also represents an infield piece Maddon could utilize.
Having both Zobrist and Russell sidelined caused concern among some fans, but, per the Cubs’ skipper, the team is taking advantage of the spring to get healthy before the regular season opens next weekend.
‘‘None of this stuff is really threatening, in a sense,’’ Maddon said. ‘‘The trainers have no real strong issues with anything. It’s almost like you’ll be overly cautious right now, and that’s all we’re doing.’’