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Pregame: Clint Hurdle, Joe Maddon discuss batting pitcher eighth

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Addison Russell is here (if you haven't heard)

Addison Russell makes his major-league debut for the Cubs tonight. The shortstop prospect begins his career starting at second base and batting ninth.

"My biggest concern would be that he knows where to go on each play," Joe Maddon said. "That is something that is often overlooked [when a player is learning a new position]. That would be the biggest adjustment."

Maddon stressed that the club promoted Russell because they felt he was emotionally ready to deal with the inevitable slumps young players so often confront.

"I think you have to look at the person himself and whether he can handle this," Maddon said. "I'm not worried about handling success, I'm worried about handling failure. I think he can, we think he can."

For the immediate future, it looks like Starlin Castro will hold down the shortstop position, especially in light of his strong start to the season (.327/.353/.408).

"This game answers its own questions," Maddon said, when asked about the middle infield moving forward. "I just think it is great to have multiple people capable of playing those spots. Honestly, I'm not worried about that. Things will work themselves out and the right answers will become obvious as we move things along."

Hurdle and Maddon talk batting pitcher eighth

Joe Maddon is committed to batting his pitcher eighth. In the fourth inning last night, his lineup construction led to a suboptimal matchup, as Jake Arrieta came to the plate with runners on first and second and one out in a 1-0 ballgame. Indeed, in the past few games, Cubs pitchers have come to the plate with a lot of men on base. A Chicago reporter asked Maddon today if the "geeks" have gotten it wrong, and whether he was considering returning to a more traditional lineup.

"My take on that is always this, the fact is people always think that if a different number eight hitter were in there he would have gotten a hit and that fact is you don't know that," Maddon said. "And, furthermore, we've had a lot of opportunities where the guy leading off is the number nine hitter and it's led to runs in the one, two and three spot.

"For me, I've always liked the number nine hole leading into the rest of the order," Maddon continued. "For me the pertinent point is that if you have a legitimate number nine leading into the [top of the order], he is going to see better pitches than he will at seven or eight. That's the point you have to consider."

For his part, Clint Hurdle has considered batting the pitcher eighth, noting that the Pirates were occasionally doing it before he arrived.

"I asked Dan Fox why [they did it] and I've managed against [Tony] LaRussa and talked to him about his reasons why," Hurdle said. "At the end of the day it's trying to stack better hitters your second time through the order, not so much the first time through. You're gambling the first time through. "

Hurdle added that in order to make it work the players have to become accustomed to their new roles and the ninth place hitter needs to be an "on-base guy."

"I just haven't warmed up enough to it to put it in a game," Hurdle said.

Mercer update

Jordy Mercer is out of the lineup again tonight. He said that his chest is feeling "a little better than yesterday."

Liz in Korea

I've been posting excerpts from a wide-ranging conversation I had with Radhames Liz in recent ‘Pregame' notes. This is the fourth installment. I'll have a full article on the adjustments that he and Ray Searage are working on later this week.

In his three seasons in Korea, Liz was used primarily as a starter and accumulated 518 2/3 innings pitched. In his final year with the club (2013), Liz led the league with 188 strikeouts but walked batters at an above-league-average pace.

Liz faced Jung-Ho Kang twice while with the LG Twins. He immediately started laughing when I asked him how he did against him.

"Yeah, I hit him one time!" Liz said. "And he remembered it. He told me that as soon as he saw me. He said, ‘Remember you hit me!' It wasn't on purpose. He knows that. He's a good player."

Kang said that the pitch hit him in the shoulder blade and hurt really badly.

"He's got a good arm," Kang said. "There weren't many pitchers who throw that velocity in Korea."

Liz, who speaks fluent English, also learned to speak some Korean while he was there.

"I could say some bad words with my teammates," Liz said. "I know how to ask for food and tell the taxi where I wanted to go. Korean is hard. The accent is really heavy. I can also write my last name, but that's it."

He said the one of the big differences between Korean baseball and playing in the majors is the number of signs.

"I can't remember how many signs we had because I was a foreigner," Liz explained. "But the Korean pitchers there were a lot of signs." He said that since they are always playing for one run, they have a lot of different signs for each situation.