CHICAGO — The suspension of Chicago Cubs catcher Willson Contreras for arguing and then throwing down his face mask near plate umpire Jordan Baker on Friday could actually come at the least hurtful time for the team.
Considering the Cubs face the Brewers and Cardinals immediately after playing the Rays for two days, the timing is about as good as it gets. The larger issue involves Contreras’ temperament. The Cubs have been working on calming down their young catcher without eliminating his passion for the game. Remember, Friday’s incident didn’t even start with him and the umpire. He jumped in after starting pitcher John Lackey was thrown out.
“I really believe you’re going to see a nice progression for him,” manager Joe Maddon said Saturday morning. “He’s still going to get upset at times, but I think you’ll see that progression being able to not go from zero to 60 like that.”
It’s not a new subject with Contreras. The team has been concerned with how he comports himself, especially with umpires. Consider what one said about him in June.
“He is always upbeat and in a good mood,” a veteran umpire stated. “He does have some youthful exuberance, and I do have to remind him sometimes that he doesn’t want to piss us [umpires] off. Overall, I think he is a good kid and a hell of a ballplayer.”
With a long career ahead of him, the Cubs want that relationship with umpires to begin on the right foot. Friday may have been a step backward, at least for a day.
“There’s a part of it I do like,” Maddon said. “Just the fact that he does play with that emotion. I love that. … There is a way to curb that a bit. I think as he gets older, you’ll see him do that.”
As for Friday’s controversy, the ball call by Baker on a 2-2 pitch from Lackey probably wasn’t helped by Lackey and Contreras having their signals mixed up. Lackey threw a slider when Contreras was expecting a fastball. It meant the pitch wasn’t properly framed, contributing to the bad call by Baker. It led to the blowup and eventually — after Friday’s events unfolded — to the suspension. Afterward, Maddon said he won’t try to change Lackey, but Contreras is a different story.
“I love his passion,” Maddon said. “I love his emotion. We just have to curb it a bit.”