The shortstop takeover had its first highlight-reel play when Javier Baez jumped, fully extended his left arm and caught a line drive at the edge of the outfield grass.
Aramis Ramirez rarely shows emotions, but the ex-Cub threw his arms up in frustration on Wednesday night after getting robbed of a leadoff single in the second inning. That’s the way things have been going for the Milwaukee Brewers during their downward spiral.
Yes, Baez looked right at home during a 6-2 victory at Wrigley Field, part of the fallout from Starlin Castro’s high ankle sprain, which will likely end the All-Star shortstop’s season.
We can come up with trade proposals and play fantasy baseball all winter.
But with Castro hobbling and first baseman Anthony Rizzo (back) sidelined indefinitely – and the Cubs hoping to see a competitive window opening soon – it’s time to start thinking of building a roster No. 1 through No. 25 and not simply The Core and Everyone Else.
“We’re not in a pennant race,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “But if we were in a pennant race, most teams lose a shortstop and they’re scrambling. These two injuries, to me, reinforce the value of depth. This kind of thing happens in a pennant race. There’s no excuses. You have to have guys that can go in and we happen to have a really able replacement at shortstop.”
After making big strides as the Triple-A Iowa shortstop – and starting the second-base transition in July – Baez has struggled going to his backhand after playing for so long on the left side of the infield.
“It’s obvious how much more comfortable he is at shortstop than at second,” Hoyer said. “He makes plays more instinctually when he’s playing short. His movements look more natural than they do at second base. I think that will come.”
Baez said: “I feel comfortable now in both positions.”
Hoyer pointed to Darwin Barney, who began to move off shortstop when Castro made the leap from Double-A Tennessee to The Show in 2010. Barney learned some of the intricacies of playing second base from Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg, the Iowa manager at the time, and won a Gold Glove in 2012.
“When we first came over here,” Hoyer said, “people talked about Barney not looking natural at second base, and then obviously he took off after a full spring training and a full transition there. I just think it takes time to feel natural. (Baez has) played shortstop his whole life. To me, he looks a lot more comfortable at short than he does at second right now.”
Given that reality – and if his future’s at second base – why not just play Baez there in September to get the experience?
“Because we have to make sure he can remain at shortstop and be able to do it,” Hoyer said. “We probably would have felt the same way about Barney. He was always sort of right in our minds as a guy we could put at shortstop for a long period if we needed to.
“It’s a fair question, but we’ll put Javy at short. I’m not saying he wouldn’t have some potential games where he moves over. But right now, he’s going to play shortstop every day.”