SAN FRANCISCO – A nightmare scenario for the Cubs unfolded on Wednesday afternoon at AT&T Park, Willson Contreras grabbing his right leg as he ran out a groundball, hopping past first base and collapsing onto the outfield grass.
The breakout star of this underachieving Cubs season used assistant athletic trainer Ed Halbur and first base coach Brandon Hyde for support as he limped off the field in the eighth inning of a 3-1 loss to the San Francisco Giants.
Contreras will travel with the Cubs to Arizona, get an MRI on his hamstring during Thursday’s off-day and have access to all the team’s medical resources at the Mesa complex.
But the Cubs are anticipating Contreras will be forced onto the disabled list, preparing for life without the dynamic personality who barged into the National League MVP discussion with his red-hot performance since the All-Star break (10 homers, 1.080 OPS).
“He’s been carrying us, really, the last couple weeks,” pitcher Kyle Hendricks said. “Definitely a blow. You just feel bad for him – a guy that works that hard, does everything the right way. To have something like that happen, it just sucks.”
Contreras had been the most dangerous hitter in a lineup with too many soft spots, the rocket arm to cover for his pitchers and stop the opponent’s running game and the chest-pounding presence for a team that has looked too lifeless at times.
“He’s turned into a horse,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “We just have to step up and pick him up now. He’ll bust his tail to get back when he’s healthy. Hopefully, it’s not that bad. But what can you do?”
Rizzo spoke with Contreras – who got shut down with a hamstring injury during the Arizona Fall League in 2015 – and heard the same young, upbeat catcher who plays with so much energy.
“He’s in good sprits,” Rizzo said. “He said he’s had it worse than this before, so it’ll be fine. Injuries like that – when you see someone grab like that – it’s not very good. But you never know.”
It’s impossible to replace a 21-homer, 70-RBI force – with the ability to handle one of the game’s most demanding positions – overnight. But the Cubs took out an insurance policy when they acquired Alex Avila – a former All-Star who caught Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer in pennant races with the Detroit Tigers – before the July 31 trade deadline.
Victor Caratini – who briefly auditioned for the backup role this summer after Miguel Montero talked his way out of the clubhouse and the country (Toronto Blue Jays) – is expected to be summoned from Triple-A Iowa and at Chase Field on Friday when the Cubs open a three-game series against the Diamondbacks.
This comes at a time when the Cubs (59-54) have lost three series in a row and are locked in a tight National League Central race where less than four games separate four teams. We’re about to find out what the defending World Series champs are made of.
“There’s nothing to hang our heads over,” Avila said. “We’re in first place. There’s no reason to be upset. Just keep grinding away and keep playing hard. We’re in a great position. That’s the bottom line.”