Cubs shrug off latest distraction, specious report about shortstop, beat Reds

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CINCINNATI — This was supposed to be the soft landing for Addison Russell in his return from his domestic-violence suspension.

Instead, almost a week into his return, the Cubs opened a road trip dealing with another media brushfire.

The latest potential distraction came courtesy of a specious report by a certain four-letter national sports-media outlet that riled Cubs fans and caught Cubs officials off-guard.

The report said the Cubs privately want Russell to push Javy Baez back to second base and take over shortstop again eventually.

The Cubs have no intention of moving Javy Baez from shortstop anytime soon, even with the return of Addison Russell.

Not even close.

“Our intention is to do exactly what you’re seeing right now, to leave it like this,” manager Joe Maddon said of Baez remaining the  starting shortstop and Russell rotating at second base and backing up Baez.

“I like what it looks like right now. The vibe could not be topped. The feeling among the group is outstanding. I would not want to upset that apple cart in any way, shape or form. I don’t think it’s wise.”

Maddon said only an injury could force the team to rethink that plan, especially with the Cubs riding a wave of success in which they’ve won 23 of 30 games, with Baez playing an outsized role.

The MVP runner-up in the National League last year, Baez hit two home runs in the season opener, and his two-hit performance in the Cubs’ 3-1 victory Tuesday against the Reds extended his hitting streak to a career-high 12 games.

To be sure, Maddon’s Baez-over-Russell disposition marks an evolution in his thinking even in the last two months — if not a continuing evolution in Baez’s exceptional play in the field.

“Javy’s been one of the most dynamic players in the league and playing a great shortstop and been really consistent,” team president Theo Epstein said. “As we talked about a week or two ago, it makes sense to give him some reliability knowing he’s going to be in the lineup every day and he’s going to be playing shortstop.

“And we have so many other players with versatility and moving parts that it makes sense to keep Javy where he is, where he’s doing a great job.”

Said Maddon: “Moving down the road, you have no idea what’s going to happen. But our short-term plan right now is to stay like this, short term being this season.”

As much as Maddon might have liked Russell — the NL’s starting All-Star shortstop in 2016 — over Baez, that was never close to a consensus opinion within an organization that was at least split on the debate for more than two years.

Certainly it makes no sense to entertain the idea of shifting from the current alignment anytime in the foreseeable future — for the good of either player. Much less the team.

Baez’s confidence is at an all-time high. He has emerged as a leader who takes pride in his complete game, not the least of which is his play at the marquee position.

And who knows how Russell’s continuing transition back to regular big-league playing time will progress against the backdrop of his off-the-field responsibilities — much less by putting him in another set of crosshairs by bumping the popular Baez off short?

Not even teammates are on board with such a change.

“I think you can have Addy or Javy out there at short, and they’re both going to do a hell of a job for you,” ace Jon Lester said. “Right now Javy’s our shortstop. I think he’s earned that. I think he deserves that.’’

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