Cubs activate catcher Contreras off DL

Backstop pinch-hits in finale vs. Brewers

Cubs activate catcher Contreras off DL

CHICAGO -- Willson Contreras was activated from the disabled list on Sunday, but the catcher will be eased into the Cubs' lineup as the team tries to replicate a rehab assignment at the big league level.

Contreras has been sidelined since Aug. 11 with a right hamstring strain, and he was able to play briefly in two Minor League games with Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach on Thursday and Friday. On Sunday, he was eager to get back in the lineup. He pinch-hit in the seventh, only to strike out in the Cubs' 3-1 loss to the Brewers.

"I feel good," Contreras said. "I feel good to play. I feel 100 percent. I'm back because I'm ready to play."

Manager Joe Maddon was more cautious.

"He's available today," Maddon said. "As we get into the next week, we'll try to get him involved in the games and get him at-bats and get him on the field, maybe not play a complete game. We're still trying to figure out the entire program or plan. We have to get him going, we have to get him in a game. He's feeling good."

The Cubs have an off-day Monday, and Maddon said he expected to have a better plan regarding Contreras' playing time on Tuesday. The tough part will be getting Contreras to slow down a notch to avoid re-aggravating the hamstring, which he injured running to first base. As Maddon said, Contreras plays "like his hair is on fire."

"It's hard to ask him to not go 100 percent," Maddon said. "The [athletic] trainers feel really strongly about him being well and healed. I think the best thing we can do is limit innings in the beginning, like he was almost on a rehab assignment. To ask him to not go hard or play like he normally does is difficult to do."

Contreras caught for five innings in his first game with Myrtle Beach, and he was the designated hitter on Friday. The Cubs open a three-game series against the Mets on Tuesday.

"I'm looking forward to talking to [the medical staff] today to see what their plan is," Contreras said. "I'm ready to play, and I'm back."

When Contreras returns, will he bat cleanup again? Maddon said he wasn't sure. Contreras, 25, sparked the Cubs in the second half, batting .311 in 23 games with 10 home runs and 29 RBIs before he was injured. He was batting .274 overall with 21 home runs and 70 RBIs in 102 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.