Ross plans to be ‘flexible' with universal DH


Count Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks among the pitchers who won’t miss hitting now that baseball has adopted a universal DH.

“I wish I could say yes. I think you guys have seen what I’m featuring up there,” Hendricks said, laughing, on Monday. 

“I’m very happy to put the bat in somebody else’s hands and just worry about pitching.”

MLB implemented the universal DH as part of its new collective bargaining agreement, a move that has long been expected. 

When it comes to how the Cubs will use it from an organizational standpoint, don’t expect them to add someone like Nelson Cruz, like the Nationals did over the weekend.

In fact, the Cubs have already shown us how they’ll use the extra spot in the lineup.

“It gives us some more flexibility,” manager David Ross said Monday. “That helps so many areas just from the pitching side, when guys are out there rolling, you let them go.

“I plan to use it, be flexible with it, try to keep guys fresh.”

We got a taste of that in 2020, when MLB implemented the universal DH, along with other temporary rule changes, for the 60-game COVID season.  

The Cubs were able to get Willson Contreras off his feet without taking his bat out of the lineup. Victor Caratini picked up a chunk of starts at catcher that season on days Contreras was the DH. 

Last season was a different story. Not only was there no universal DH, but the Cubs had a revolving door at backup catcher. Contreras picked up a heavy workload, ranking seventh in baseball in innings caught despite missing a month with a knee injury, and his offensive production dipped.

The Cubs addressed that issue before the lockout, landing Yan Gomes — the top free agent catcher available — on a two-year deal.

The Gomes signing raised some speculation around a potential Contreras trade. Contreras is set to be a free agent after this season and could be moved if he and the Cubs don't reach an extension.

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But the Gomes addition was also made with the universal DH in mind. He's a proven starter and can take some of the burden off Contreras behind the plate.

“Willson is definitely a guy that will see some time there, with Yan here and his experience,” Ross said. “Having two quality catchers — like we did in ‘20 with him and Vic — was a luxury. I feel like we have another luxury there, some depth there, two really good players.”

Keeping Contreras fresh should help him maintain his offensive production. The DH is an avenue for the Cubs to manage his workload and keep his bat in the lineup on his days off from catching.

Contreras said Sunday he likes the universal DH addition and discussed how it will benefit him

"I think it’s really good to have the DH in both leagues," Contreras said. "There’s going to be at least more game time for a few guys, or even for me.

"If I’m going to play DH this year it’s going to help me a lot with my legs. Take my rest and my days off and feel healthy. That’s the main thing for me."

Outside of Contreras, other Cubs DH candidates could include Clint Frazier, Ian Happ and Nick Madrigal, certainly Happ, whom the Cubs will be cautious with early in the season after he underwent elbow surgery last month.

“We'll be flexible with it, give guys days off, see who's maybe got some bumps or bruises. Can give guys like Happ or somebody like that some days there,” Ross said.

Madrigal is coming off a serious hamstring injury that required season-ending surgery. If the Cubs want to give his legs a rest, he can DH, while David Bote, Nico Hoerner — who could be an everyday player at multiple positions in 2022 — or someone else plays second base. 

There's certainly no shortage of DH options for the Cubs, and they already have a blueprint for how they can use the extra spot in the lineup.

“I'm sure that'll be an ever-changing spot of who’s swinging the bat well and who needs rest,” Ross said.

Contributing: Gordon Wittenmyer

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