PITTSBURGH -- One day after the replacement shortstop for Javier Baez made a critical ninth-inning error in a late collapse against the Philadelphia Phillies, the Chicago Cubs recalled infielder Addison Russell and demoted outfielder Albert Almora Jr. to Triple-A Iowa.
"There was going to be fewer at-bats against left-handed pitching," general manager Jed Hoyer said. "Getting at-bats in Iowa, before Sept. 1, is a good thing."
Although the move looks like a direct reaction to Thursday's loss, in which backup David Bote booted a ball, in reality, the Cubs were thinking of the switch already. Russell has thrived at Triple-A lately, and Almora has struggled at the plate, especially against left-handers -- normally his strength. He has a .532 OPS against lefties this year, and Russell compiled a 1.060 OPS in his latest stint in the minors.
"I feel like I got back to the original me," Russell said. "Barreling the ball up. Playing on a consistent basis had a lot to do with it."
Almora was the Cubs' first-round pick in 2012 and had been with the big league team for the better part of three seasons before the surprise demotion. Hoyer said the Cubs plan to recall Almora on Sept. 1, when the roster limit expands from 25 to 40.
Russell, who began the season on the suspended list for violating MLB's domestic abuse policy, was with the Cubs from May 8 to July 24 before being sent down as much for his mental mistakes as anything. He vowed to be better, including not missing signs, an issue for him previously.
The Cubs can't afford any miscues, especially on the road, as they're 23-38 on the season after being swept by the Phillies.
"We're unbelievably fortunate to be in this position right now," Hoyer said. "We're in first place. We don't deserve to be, based on how we've played. If we were in any other division, we would be seven back at least. But we're tied. We should look at that as an incredible opportunity."
The Cubs are 41-19 at home and have often extended their lead in the division there, only to give it back on the road. They are 2-6 on their current trip, haven't won a road series since mid-May and are one game back of the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Central.
"We can't keep having this conversation over and over," Hoyer said of the home and road splits. "If we continue that cycle, we're going to end up disappointed."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.