Ben Zobrist feels good about his health, Cubs' chances

Even Ben Zobrist can’t say how many at-bats he’ll wind up with this year, but the 36-year-old is sure of one thing: The Cubs’ 2016 World Series hangover is over.

“I can tell you this,” Zobrist said Sunday. “The hunger is back for this team. We’re excited to get back at it and prove to the league we’re the best team again.”

That declaration might seem bold, but Zobrist won consecutive World Series titles with the Royals in 2015 and the Cubs in 2016. A miserable 2017 season is behind him, thanks to rest and a pain-free right wrist.

That puts Zobrist in position for a best-case scenario 2018, which would include starting 130 games at various positions and large number of games in the leadoff spot.

The switch-hitting Zobrist batted .232 last season, his lowest average for a full season — including .179 from the right side — due in large part to the wrist pain he tried to play through. The wrist eventually caused him to miss 17 games. He has taken a wiser approach since, while he knows the Cubs have young, versatile players ready to seize more playing time.

“I’ll be good with what we have to do,” Zobrist said. “Because we’ve got a lot of great players, and there are going to be good players who are going to sit on the bench at times.

“But no one ever rusts there. Joe (Maddon) uses everybody.”

Maddon admitted he was curious to see how Zobrist performs, noting he appears to be in great shape. Maddon said he’ll need Zobrist to play a variety of positions — including first base in case Anthony Rizzo needs a break.

“He was not pleased with his year last year, took time to reflect upon it, and now he’s been refreshed,” Maddon said. “I think you’re going to see the best form of Ben Zobrist.”

At this point in Zobrist’s career, individual goals have taken a back seat.

“Everyone wants to have great seasons,” Zobrist said. “I told (Maddon), ‘Wherever you need me, I’m ready.’ I’m going to try to be prepared to fill the spots that need to be filled, and be a great complement to what we have going on.”

Zobrist plans to communicate more frequently with Maddon and the training staff regarding his health and not try to play through injuries like he did last season.

“Some guys, if they have a hangnail, they might not want to play,” Zobrist said. “That wasn’t me. I’ve tried to push through everything.”

At the same time, Zobrist will try to lead by example and speak up more often to the younger players.

“I’ll do what I can to encourage guys down the path that every major leaguer goes down,” Zobrist said. “Some are mature beyond their years. We all need somebody next to us to encourage and push us along the way.”

mgonzales@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @MDGonzales

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