A few errant throws and a disjointed swing sent murmurs through Cubdom that maybe Addison Russell wasn’t quite right. Then he was removed from Tuesday’s game as Ben Zobrist shifted to short to accommodate Ian Happ at second. Wait, Zobrist stayed in to play short rather than keep a guy with Gold Glove potential there? Yeah, but the Cubs were losing late, so it wasn’t a big deal. Except that Russell was not listed when Wednesday’s lineup was announced.
“It was a scheduled day off,” Joe Maddon told the media (link to video) regarding the absence.
Okay, cool, so nothing to be concerned about when it comes to the throws and swings?
“For me, what I’m seeing is he’s just off to the side of the ball,” Maddon explained. “Because the other day in LA, we had that first base dugout, I’m telling Jonesy (third base coach Gary Jones), ‘I’ve never seen him throw the ball so well.’ I mean, with so much on it. He has more on it, I think just technique-wise he’s off to the side of the ball a little bit, which is causing it to sink somewhat, or sail. But physically, arm strength-wise, I thought LA was the best I’ve seen him throw the baseball since I’ve known him. I mean just from a purely velocity perspective.”
Maddon was then asked about his shortstop appearing out of sync at the plate as well.
“Yeah, he hasn’t been on top of his game, there’s no question,” Maddon admitted. “And that’s why, again, I give him some time off, and I can with Javy. Having both of those guys going back and forth I think is going to benefit us by the end of the season. You don’t have Javy to go back and forth with there, it makes it a lot more difficult.”
Maddon isn’t coming out and saying it, so allow me to wade into the space between the lines just a little bit here. Russell having a scheduled day off isn’t out of the ordinary in and of itself, but getting one between a travel day Thursday and an early exit Tuesday — again, after being replaced by Zobrist, who hasn’t played short in a minute — signals to me that something isn’t quite right physically.
What’s really telling, though, is the last part about having Javy “to go back and forth.” This isn’t a matter of employing a very capable bench player and we’re not talking about flipping them on the field, as Russell is purely a shortstop ever since seizing control of the position from Starlin Castro during the 2015 season. It sounds to me that Maddon is saying Russell might at least be a little fatigued without coming out and admitting it.
Then you’ve got Maddon’s assessment that the shortstop is “off to the side of the ball,” a potential indicator that something in his shoulder could be nagging him. If that’s the case, it’s probably something mild but chronic, an issue that wouldn’t be alleviated by a DL stint or that would simply be reaggravated immediately upon resuming full activity. That would make Javy’s presence all the more important over the rest of the season.
And it could be that the malady is strictly mental, something Russell is going to have to work through. The final — and perhaps most likely — option is that I’m completely paranoid, allowing confirmation bias from my speculation as to Russell’s health to interpret all kinds of things from Maddon’s words that just aren’t there. Yeah, that’s probably it, huh.