PITTSBURGH — Patrick Wisdom’s memorable rookie season came to an abrupt end.
The Chicago Cubs placed Wisdom on the injured list Wednesday without an injury distinction — typically an indication of a COVID-19-related reason. Although the third baseman had been nursing a sore wrist, manager David Ross said that was not why Wisdom went on the IL while not providing further specifics.
Cubs players and staff wore masks coming out of the visitors clubhouse at PNC Park, and some kept them on while on the field before and during batting practice. The atypical sight was the first indication something was awry before Ross’ pregame availability.
“We’re taking every precaution we can to make sure everybody’s healthy on the field when they step foot out here,” Ross said.
Triple-A Iowa infielder Trent Giambrone joined the active roster to replace Wisdom before the 3-2 victory against the Pittsburgh Pirates, which snapped a seven-game losing streak. However, the Cubs did not need to create a 40-man roster spot for the 2016 25th-round pick. Teams are allowed to add players who are not on the 40-man only when dealing with COVID-19 issues, per league rules.
“We’re following all MLB protocols and try to do what we can to make sure everybody’s healthy and safe to step foot on that field,” Ross said. “And we’ve been doing that every day. Things have popped up, even in my case, that are just out of your control to some point. So all we can do is to continue to follow MLB protocols and try to set everybody up to be as safe as possible and continue playing baseball.”
The Cubs previously had avoided any players going on the IL because of COVID-19. While they have dealt with members of the coaching staff testing positive — including Ross as well as president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer earlier this month — the Cubs managed to navigate through nearly the entirety of the season without on-field COVID-19 problems, despite being one of the teams that never reached the 85% vaccinated threshold.
“Everybody has gone through some form of adversity within this pandemic,” Ross said. “We’ve had our fair share, even as minimal as it’s been, and I think to take pride in that almost feels — I don’t know that that’s the way I want to look at it. I just feel like we’re all (lucky) for sure.
“We follow the protocols and you follow the rules and the best way that it’s been instructed for us to stay safe and trying to stick to that, and I think we found a nice routine in that in the middle of trying to win baseball games and do the best we can on the field as well. That’s been a really challenging thing to do, but we’re here and we’re still playing and we’re five games away.”
It’s an unfortunate way for Wisdom, 30, to end his season. He set a Cubs rookie record with 28 home runs, surpassing Kris Bryant’s mark (26) set in 2015. It was a high point for Wisdom, who twice went on blistering home run stretches.
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His home run rate coincided with an extremely high strikeout rate — at 40.3%, the highest in the majors among 219 hitters with a minimum of 350 plate appearances and 5% higher than the next-closest hitter. Wisdom hit .231 with a .305 on-base percentage, .518 slugging percentage and 117 OPS+ in 106 games.
Cutting down his strikeouts is important if Wisdom wants to be more than a potential platoon player next year. His plus defense at third base and ability to play the corner outfield spots make him an interesting piece for the 2022 lineup.
Only three players in major-league history have hit more homers in 375 plate appearances or fewer: Mark McGwire in 2000 (32 HR/321 PA) and 2001 (29 HR/364 PA), Mitch Garver in 2019 (31 HR/359 PA) and Mike Zunino this season (32 HR/363 PA).
“He came here and stuck to who he was, he contributed and helped us win a lot of games,” Ross said. “When he came up and you lose some of the guys that we lost, it felt like a big blow, and he came up and really filled the gap for a long time and helped us stay on the path for a lot longer toward winning than probably anybody else we could have called up.
“I’m happy for that. I’m happy for what he’s contributed. I’m happy about the work he put in defensively because that’s definitely somewhere that he didn’t have high grades in the past, and you can tell it’s been a pretty good space for him.
“He’s made the most of his opportunity and he should be really proud going into his offseason.”