<
>

Cubs playoff notes: Javier Baez takes over at shortstop

Javier Baez is in the spotlight as he takes over at shortstop for the injured Addison Russell. Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports

CHICAGO -- Chicago Cubs 2011 first-round pick Javier Baez is in the spotlight as he takes over at shortstop for the injured Addison Russell -- at least in the next round of the playoffs.

The bottom line is Baez can be every bit as effective as Russell but there’s a consistency to Russell’s game which Baez is searching for. It was interesting to hear manager Joe Maddon’s assessment of his new starting shortstop. He likened it to Russell’s progression several months ago as he came on strong, especially when moved from second base to shortstop.

“I want to believe Javy is arriving at the same point,” Maddon said Thursday afternoon. “The big thing with him is the consistency on defense.”

Some might think consistency on offense is just as important for Baez, but his home run in Game 4 of the division series said a lot.

“To hit a three-run home run in a playoff game should boost your confidence,” Maddon said.

Four starters: Maddon said unequivocally the Cubs would use four starters in the NLCS but wouldn’t name anyone past Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta in Games 1 and 2. The obvious choices are Kyle Hendricks for Game 3 and Jason Hammel for Game 4, but after lasting only three innings in Game 4 against the Cardinals, Hammel isn’t guaranteed anything.

If Maddon thinks he’ll need his bullpen more in a Hammel start, that could come in Game 3 since it follows an off-day and the relievers should be rested. Or the Cubs could call on Clayton Richard or Travis Wood to start a game. They’ll wait until they know their opponent before announcing a decision.

“We have not finalized anything,” Maddon said. “We’ll start four starters. I’m not denying that.”

Motte update: Reliever Jason Motte could take the place of Russell on the 25-man roster, giving the Cubs an extra reliever but leaving them with only one true backup infielder in Tommy La Stella. Motte has been rehabbing from shoulder inflammation and Maddon said his recent simulation game was a positive sign.

“Motte is doing well,” Maddon said. “It’s very encouraging. He’s in the conversation.”

The choice to take Russell’s roster spot could come down to Motte or infielder and switch-hitter Jonathan Herrera. Herrera was seen taking ground balls at second base and shortstop during the Cubs' workout Thursday. Chris Coghlan was also taking ground balls at second base, so the Cubs could be preparing for either eventuality -- adding another pitcher or simply adding Herrera. The NLCS roster has to be given to the league Saturday morning.

Odds and ends: Most players prefer playing the New York Mets in the NLCS only due to a shorter flight and one-hour time change. ... Maddon said he isn’t against using a starter like Lester or Arrieta in the bullpen in a Game 7 situation but prefers to use his relievers unless they’re just worn out. ... David Ross was more than happy to have a quiet day or two after the intensity of the wild-card game followed by the short division series.

“It’s nice to have a non-emotional day like yesterday (Wednesday),” Ross said. “Keep your emotions and intensity level low because it’s going to get intense in a day or two.”

And finally, Maddon once again praised former shortstop Starlin Castro, who has thrived at second base.

“I’ve seen the transformation of a young man from a nice major league shortstop to a real winning type of baseball player,” Maddon said.

Other quotables:

“Jon Lester in a big game is always tasty.” -- Jon Maddon, on naming Lester his Game 1 starter

“It’s a good question. Georgie (Soler) can hit the ball really far. I’m willing to say Georgie right there.” -- Kyle Schwarber, on who would win a Cubs home run derby.

“I have so few brain cells left. I have to protect them. They’re on the endangered species list right now.” -- Maddon, on two days of celebrating since the Cubs won the division series.