(CBS) In the absence of the injured Addison Russell, Cubs infielder Javier Baez has continually wowed with his play at shortstop, which was highlighted again Monday by a diving stop and throw to first for an out that few in the big leagues could make.
While that’s eye-catching, what impresses Cubs manager Joe Maddon is something much simpler.
“I’m sure you guys have noticed — he’s gotten better at making the routine plays,” Maddon said in an interview with Matt Spiegel and Danny Parkins on 670 The Score on Tuesday. “That’s the thing that really stands out to me. Everybody’s wondering about the great plays. And I love the great plays, but his mechanics on the routine ground ball have gotten better dramatically. He’s coming to the ball. He’s not laying back. Very simply, he’s not patting the ball on his glove. He’s throwing it quickly and accurately. Moving to his left and been really fun to watch.
“Again, not spectacular stuff, more routine stuff. I like when guys play infield defense without any chrome. And with him, particularly like I’ve told him before, ‘Listen, if it’s an athletic play, go ahead and make it, but if it’s not, I just want you to make it routinely.’ And that’s what he’s done.”
Maddon has made clear that Russell will be the Cubs’ starting shortstop when he returns from a foot strain — likely in the coming weeks — but Baez figures to continue to play a large role. Maddon called Baez’s at-bats in the past two or three games his “best” of the season, and Baez is hitting .295 with seven homers, 22 RBIs and an .897 OPS in 25 games in August.