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Cubs’ Jeimer Candelario embracing transition back to first base part time

NEW YORK – The light blue first baseman’s mitt that Jeimer Candelario slips on before jogging out of the dugout has its owner’s name stitched in gold along the side: Miguel Amaya. 

“This one is the best one here right now,” Candelario told the Sun-Times. “It’s got a good [pocket], and I’m getting used to it.” 

Amaya, who has exclusively played catcher and designated hitter in the majors, was happy to offer it up. 

“I know how that feels when you go out there with a glove that you don’t feel comfortable with,” Amaya said. “So, I just said, ‘Have mine. It’s broken in, so you can use it, and you can keep it until you have one broken in.” 

It was a nice reunion for the pair, who had crossed over in the organization when Amaya was beginning his professional career in the lower levels of the Cubs’ farm system and Candelario was breaking into the major leagues. But it also spoke to how long it’s been since Candelario has played first base. 

“I’m working both sides,” said Candelario, who has also been playing third base against left-handed opposing pitchers.  “Wherever they need me, I’ll be there. I’ll put myself in a great position to help my team win, and for me, that’s really special.” 

The Cubs have used seven different first basemen this year, trying to squeeze production out of the position. Since adding Candelario at the deadline, they’ve landed on a platoon of him and Patrick Wisdom. With right-hander Kodai Senga on the mound for the Mets on Monday, switch-hitting Candelario made his fifth start at first base this year. 

“I talked to him, he’s comfortable,” manager David Ross said of Candelario last week. “He’ll get the work in, the hands work, he feels good over there. He’s actually, by some of our metrics, rated higher at first than third.” 

In the shortened 2020 season, the last time Candelario played first base, Candelario recorded three defensive runs saved at first, according to FanGraphs, albeit in a smaller sample size. This year, he has -1 DRS at third base. And having him play a lot of first base presented an opportunity for the Cubs to upgrade offensively at the position. 

“It’s not an easy transition,” Ross said Monday. “He’s played clean, simple baseball over there. Still getting comfortable, more familiar over there. But really fit in nicely, off to a great start offensively and really deepened our lineup.” 

Wisdom, who has been playing first base against lefties, has more recent experience at the position. The third baseman started 12 games at first base last year. 

“Being in the game from that vantage point, it’s different,” he said. “Just a different view on the game, you’re almost included on every single play. So, it’s fun.” 

Some things are different than last year. With the shift banned, the second baseman’s positioning has changed, affecting which batted balls the first baseman is responsible for. 

“For guys that are really good defenders but don’t play as much first base, the challenging thing is knowing when to let the ball go and when to go to the base,” second baseman Nico Hoerner told the Sun-Times. “It sounds silly, but it is really challenging in a split-second decision.”

Wisdom praised Hoerner for his communication. Hoerner lets his first basemen know when he’s moving side to side, tells them when he’s going for a softly hit grounder in front of them. 

“It’s a very underrated position,” Hoerner said of first base.

Candelario is trying to keep the transition simple. Just catch the ball. And he’s ordered a new glove. 

“I like Amaya’s, but it’s a little big,” he said. 

Once his own first base glove arrives, he’ll weigh his options.

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