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Levine: Javier Baez Returns, Is Ready For Utility Role

By Bruce Levine--

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Amid an 8-1 start that's their best since 1969, the Cubs have added another weapon to their dangerous roster. On Friday morning ahead of the afternoon's home contest against the Rockies, the team welcomed back super-utilityman Javier Baez, who had been nursing a jammed thumb since late in spring training. His rehab also took a few extra days due to getting grazed in the head by a pitch last week in a minor league game.

The 23-year-old Baez will be used at a variety of different positions in both the outfield and infield. Though there's no room for a regular position, Baez is expected to get ample playing time off the bench subbing for infielders Addison Russell and Ben Zobrist. He will also get into some games as a replacement after double-switches and to help protect late leads with his defense.

"You will see him all over the place and all over the map," manager Joe Maddon said. "He has gotten all of this work at all of these positions and continues to do so. We will get him out there relatively soon. We want him to get in the action. A young guy like that, you can't sit to long."

Maddon has plenty of versatility in the form of Baez, outfielder Matt Szczur and infielder Tommy La Stella all being capable of playing multiple positions off the bench. Maddon has Zobrist playing second base every day now, after he spent most of his career being a super utilityman who seemingly played in a new spot each game. In signing Zobrist to a four-year, $56-million deal in December, the Cubs promised Zobrist a chance to be the primary second baseman, which was an incentive in his decision.

Baez added outfield play to his resume in winter ball. He also adjusted the plane of his swing and is using an approach that allows him to hit the ball to center field and right field more often.

Now, he's anxious to get on the field and prove he can start at some point in the big leagues.

"With the team that we have, we will be rotating a lot," Baez said. "My plan is to be on the field every day. We have a pretty nasty lineup, and the other teams are going to have to pick someone to pitch to. Hopefully it will be me. Regardless, I will be ready to play."

Baez was the Cubs' first-round pick in the 2011 amateur draft. He debuted in the final months of the 2014 season, hitting .169 and struggling to make contact with a strikeout rate of 41 percent. Cutting down on his strikeouts has been a focus for Baez and the most important aspect of his evolution.

Baez hit .289 in 28 games for the Cubs in 2015, with a strikeout rate of 30 percent. He e took over for the injured Russell at shortstop in Game 3 of the NLDS against the Cardinals in October. He had four hits in five at-bats in the final two games of that series. Baez then went 1-for-10 against the Mets in the NLCS.

Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.

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