Red-hot Contreras declares Cubs 'are back'

Catcher keys post-break sweep of Orioles with 8-for-14 series

Red-hot Contreras declares Cubs 'are back'

BALTIMORE -- After helping the Cubs score 27 runs in three games against the Orioles, Willson Contreras declared: "We are back. We're back to where we were last year."

Contreras has done his part to provide the spark. The catcher started all three Interleague games, and went 8-for-14, including a career-high four-hit game in Sunday's 8-0 win. The All-Star break was key.

"It's not just me, but I think everyone needed it, the rest was needed," Contreras said. "Everybody looks focused, everybody looks like they have a plan and an approach. We're not wasting time, we're attacking pitches."

It helps to have the right equipment, too. Apparently, Contreras didn't like his bats, saying they were too light, and picked up one of fellow catcher Victor Caratini's. It worked.

"I have to thank Victor," Contreras said. "He gave me bats, and I'm hitting with his bats and I'm hot. Thanks, Victor. He's a great guy. I love Victor."

Contreras on Cubs' offense

The Cubs like Caratini, too, and manager Joe Maddon has to figure out when to get the rookie a start so he doesn't overwork Contreras. Caratini was promoted from Triple-A Iowa when Miguel Montero was designated for assignment in late June, and is expected to start Tuesday.

"The thing about a guy like Caratini, as with any young player, I'm always cognizant about not playing him enough," Maddon said. "He's a guy who is still developing. He can play, I'm good with him and I like him a lot, not a little bit. What Willson is doing now is so significant and what he did last year and what he's doing now, he's building into the season well. The majority of the playing time should go in his direction."

With the July 31 non-waiver Trading Deadline approaching, do the Cubs need more depth at catcher? Maddon likes the two young ones that he has.

Contreras' three-run homer

"If they're good, I'm OK with it," he said.

It would be hard to find another like Contreras.

"He has a lot of energy," Maddon said. "He [started] three in a row, it's hot and he has the same energy about him. It's a beautiful thing to watch.

"This guy may be different. He may be that guy who has that fire."

Said Contreras: "I feel like I'm the heart of the team, I'm behind the plate, and I want to play with my energy, no matter if I hit or not. I think we need that energy for the second half and it's going to be there."

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com 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.