NEW YORK — Jeurys Familia schooled Willson Contreras, the New York Mets closer blowing the Cubs rookie away in the ninth inning on Thursday night at Citi Field with five pitches clocked between 96 and 98 mph.
Contreras fouled off one pitch in the middle of that at-bat but whiffed three times, striking out swinging with the bases loaded after Familia intentionally walked Anthony Rizzo, trying to protect a one-run lead.
“He learned a lesson,” manager Joe Maddon said of Contreras, replaying the end of that 4-3 loss against a closer who’s 27-for-27 in save chances this season. “Familia didn’t even throw one strike, I don’t think, among all those hitters, but his stuff moves that harshly. It’s really that good. I would like to believe the next time they see him, they might have a different approach.”
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That’s yet another reason why the Cubs don’t plan to send Contreras back to Triple-A Iowa, understanding how valuable he could become in October and beyond.
“He’s shown that he belongs here,” Maddon said. “He’s definitely shown that he can do this. (He’s saying): ‘I’m staying here. I’m not going anywhere.’”
There are looming roster decisions, with Adam Warren scheduled to make a spot start against the Cincinnati Reds next week at Wrigley Field after getting stretched out at Triple-A Iowa. Tommy La Stella (hamstring) could be activated from the disabled list as soon as this weekend. Dexter Fowler (hamstring) might not return to the lineup until after the All-Star break. The Cubs haven’t really given a timeline on Jorge Soler (hamstring).
But Contreras has already proven his versatility, moving to left field and first base while living up to his catcher-of-the-future label and hitting .325 (13-for-40) with three homers and 10 RBIs through his first 13 games in The Show.
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As long as Contreras continues to absorb the team’s game-planning system — and learn all the different personalities on this pitching staff — his rocket arm might also help the Cubs control the running game better than they did during last year’s National League Championship Series loss to the Mets.
“That was like the floor — to bring him up as a third catcher and get his feet wet, see how it goes,” president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said, “knowing that we could easily send him back down. But we always were transparent about leaving open the possibility that he might take off and hit the ground running. And he certainly has.
“No pun intended, he’s willed himself into this position. No decrees about this formally, but he’s obviously played himself into a position to take on real responsibility and help the team win. He’s earned his spot on the team.”