Avila provides lift after Cubs lose Contreras

Catcher homers, manages staff in 8-3 win over D-backs

Avila provides lift after Cubs lose Contreras

PHOENIX -- When the Cubs acquired reliever Justin Wilson and catcher Alex Avila from the Tigers at the non-waiver Trade Deadline, the focus was on the left-hander and how the bullpen got a boost. The Cubs didn't know how important Avila would be until Friday.

"Having Alex is a huge deal for us," Chicago's John Lackey said. "We've got a veteran guy who has been in this situation before. He hit a huge homer tonight and he'll fit right in there and do fine."

Avila and Kyle Schwarber hit back to back homers on Friday to help the Cubs post an 8-3 win over the D-backs in their first game without Willson Contreras, who will miss at least four weeks because of a right hamstring strain.

"I just play when my name's called," Avila said, downplaying his role. "With [Contreras] going down, it's unfortunate for us as a team and for him. He's one of the best guys in our lineup, but guys have to pick up the slack over the course of the time he'll be out, and today we were able to do that."

Avila's bases-loaded walk

Not only did Avila provide some offense -- and a well-timed bunt in a three-run eighth inning -- but he helped get Lackey back on track after a rough first inning. The right-hander walked two but got Paul Goldschmidt to hit into an inning-ending double play.

"Alex is really calm back there and he's carried out the game plan that they've called very well," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said.

Avila did get some help regarding Lackey. Pitching coach Chris Bosio spotted something in the right-hander's mechanics, and they were able to correct it in-game.

"Usually catching back there, it's a little difficult to notice something mechanically because at that point, I'm focusing on the release point," Avila said. "A lot of that will come from the pitching coach and being able to see from the side."

Avila also talked to Wilson after his outing in which he walked a batter, struck out the next one, then gave up a single before he was pulled.

"His stuff is tremendous," Avila said of Wilson. "I think maybe at times he's been overthrowing a little bit. He's been pretty amped up every time he's come out, and maybe trying to be too fine with his pitches. That will happen with everybody. Like I told him, he'll get back in a role that he's had before. With his arsenal, Joe will keep putting him out there in big situations and he'll be big for us."

Maddon wasn't sure how he'd use Avila, 30, and rookie Victor Caratini, who was called up from Triple-A Iowa. The veteran will likely be paired with Lackey down the stretch.

"Alex is a pro and a good hitter," Lackey said. "Good hitters usually call good games."

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.