Addison Russell was back at Wrigley Field with the Cubs on Friday, after spending a day away from the team in the face of domestic abuse allegations posted on Instagram by a friend of Russell’s wife.
Russell’s presence was not an indication that the club had made any determinations about the veracity of the post. The 23-year-old shortstop issued a statement Thursday in which he denied having abused his wife, Melisa. Major League Baseball was still investigating the matter, which by rule only it — and not the team — is empowered to do.
“I think the social media, they brought up some personal stuff,” he said at his locker before the Cubs’ 5-3 defeat against the Rockies. “I’m not here to talk about the personal stuff. I’m here to talk about baseball.”
Yet some of the things Russell said seemed to blur the line separating the two.
Russell — who hit .162 in May and is at .091 in June — is off to a disastrous start at the plate in his third big-league season. His defense has been subpar by his standards, too. Even before this week’s controversy, Javier Baez had started multiple games at shortstop so manager Joe Maddon could “rest” Russell. Maddon explained to reporters that he’d “looked into his eyes and determined something wasn’t right.”
Russell referred to it as a “mental break.”
“I’m handling it well,” he said. “Obviously, we have to do what’s best for the team in the long run.”
He also said he was glad to get Thursday off “mentally just to relax.”
“Just get back to your inner thoughts,” he said. “ ‘What were you doing whenever you were successful?’ mainly is kind of like what I was thinking. But you get back in those thoughts, those positive thoughts, and I think positive things start happening.”
Thursday was, though, filled with tension for the Cubs as they game-planned for how to handle the Russell situation and fielded more questions than they were fully prepared to answer. One thing neither president of baseball operations Theo Epstein nor any of Russell’s teammates has done is explicitly defend him.
Russell — talking only about baseball? — said the team has taken good care of him.
“They’ve been there for me every step of the way,” he said. “They’ve given me the chance to sort out things I need to sort out. And all the things I need as far as stabilization, I think it’s right here.”
When and how Russell will be worked back into the lineup remains to be seen. He was available to play Friday, but was the team’s only position player who didn’t get into the game. The Cubs have lagged well behind expectations offensively as a team, but Russell has been next-level bad — his last multi-hit game came on April 28, and he hasn’t driven in a run since May 21.
“There’s periods of time where you’re struggling, you’re scuffling and sometimes you stink,” he said. “I know that being young and in the major leagues is going to come with a lot of adversity, but I’m here for a reason. It’s because I’m good.”
But there certainly has been a comedown on the field this season for a player who was an All-Star in 2016 with 21 home runs and 95 RBI.
“I think every day brings a new learning curve,” he said. “You tackle those adversities day by day and you overcome those, and it makes you a better player and a better person at the end of the day.”
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