Contreras' surprise text: 'You're playing first base'

Versatile rookie steps in with Rizzo slowed by lower back tightness

Contreras' surprise text: 'You're playing first base'

MIAMI -- Willson Contreras expected to have Thursday off and then the rookie catcher got a text message in the morning, telling him that he'd make his third Major League start for the Cubs at first base. One of the first things Contreras did was send a message to teammate Javier Baez to see if he could borrow a glove.

The Cubs needed a backup with Anthony Rizzo sidelined for Thursday's 4-2 loss to the Marlins because of tightness in his lower back. Contreras, 24, was promoted from Triple-A Iowa on June 17 with the intention of learning more about catching at the big league level from veterans Miguel Montero and David Ross. The rookie, ranked No. 2 among the Cubs' top 30 prospects by, has caught two games, and thought Thursday would be a breather because Ross is matched up with starter Jon Lester.

"I didn't expect [to play first], but like I told them when I got here, I can play anywhere they need me," Contreras said. "I'll be ready for every game, every day."

He showed he was ready in his first Major League at-bat when Contreras smacked a pinch-hit home run on the first pitch he saw on June 19 against the Pirates. He has played first before -- and has playing time at third, second and the outfield, too.

Contreras' two-run home run

"With the injuries we've had, you've got a young guy coming up, swinging the bat well and trying to fit him in and making sure the other guys catch, too -- if we could get [Contreras] at another position, it would free a lot of things up and help us," said Cubs manager Joe Maddon, who talked to Iowa manager Marty Pevey and others about what Contreras could handle.

"I have no problems playing first base," Contreras said. "Once they told me, 'You're playing first base,' I said, 'OK, I'm ready to play first base. No problem with that.' I want to play every day, I want to do the little things to win the game, to make the playoffs, to make the World Series. I'll do everything for my team."

Must C: Contreras' first homer

Contreras worked with Cubs infield coach Gary Jones during batting practice. Any advice from Rizzo?

"Catch the ball -- that's it," Rizzo said. "That's all I think about playing first base is catch the ball."

The Cubs do like versatile ballplayers, and Maddon said they may use Contreras the way they did Kyle Schwarber last season, and have him catch and play some outfield.

"I think it's an interesting first look," Maddon said.

Contreras said he's felt welcome since he joined the Cubs in Chicago, and Montero and Ross have done their best to tutor him.

"It's special to have them as my mentors," Contreras said. "They have a lot of experience in the big leagues. Any catcher in the big leagues needs to have someone to tell them what they need to do and how they can get better every day.

"I've felt comfortable since I got here," he said. "They gave me the best welcome I can get. Once I hit the first homer, I said, I have no pressure to put on myself."

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.