MESA – There was one thing Cubs shortstop Addison Russell was missing last season.
Time on the field.
After dealing with a shoulder injury as well as a foot injury, the 24-year-old lost quite a bit of playing time.
In 2016, Russell played in 151 games, about the average number for most Cubs starters. Last season, however, he played only 110.
Early in the 2017 season, Russell suffered a right shoulder injury, which lingered throughout the season. Then, in early August, he suffered a foot injury and was placed on the disabled list through mid-September.
“I just need to be healthy,” Russell said. “Being healthy and helping the team come out on top is going to be huge. I think I play my role pretty well, I think everyone plays their role pretty well. You don’t want to have to put anything on anyone else, I just want to stay out there on the field a little bit longer this year.”
Not only was Russell struggling on the field, but he was dealing with off-the-field issues, as well. A mid-season investigation into domestic violence allegations against him, stemming from a social media post from his wife, took place and was subsequently dismissed.
As the season concluded with a 4-1 National League Championship Series loss to the Dodgers, Russell finished with a .239 batting average, 84 hits and 12 home runs.
This will be Russell’s fourth season with the Cubs as a key starter, and not much has changed with the infield lineup since he first made his Cubs debut.
Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant both average between 150 and 160 games each season since 2015. A year later, Javy Baez joined the starting lineup group rotating between second base and shortstop, along with Ben Zobrist who is primarily at second base.
“You look back to when K.B. (Kris Bryant) and I got called up,” Russell said. “We were a couple pieces to a big plan. When you look at those three seasons — three postseason runs, one World Series title — it’s pretty amazing.”
With two weeks left of spring training, the Cubs are tied with Cleveland for second place in the Cactus League, with a record of 12-7 as of Thursday.
Manager Joe Maddon, who, like Russell, also joined the organization in 2015, likes the growth he has seen from his core starters.
“They’re digging a little bit deeper than the normal group,” Maddon said. “I’m saying that because beyond what they do out there which has not changed a bit which I love, they’re really growing up as a group of human beings.”
Although last year didn’t quite live up to the iconic 2016 World Series win, Russell believes there’s still much more to come from this team.
“The great thing about the group is that I’m 24, Javy’s 25, K.B.’s 26 and Rizzo’s almost 30, the old man of the group,” Russell laughed. “There’s obviously room for improvement in all facets of offense, defense, all that stuff.
“I think that we’re just scratching the surface on how good that we can be.”