Chicago Cubs shortstop Addison Russell said Thursday that he is focused on "trying to become a better person" since being suspended for 40 games for violating Major League Baseball's domestic violence policy.
Russell was suspended last fall after a series of allegations made by his ex-wife. Without getting into specifics, Russell said in February that he was accountable for his past actions and apologized for "the hurt and the pain" he caused.
Russell had been working out in Arizona, playing in extended spring training games and meeting with a counselor twice a week before joining Triple-A Iowa on Wednesday. Barring any postponements, Russell would be eligible to return to the Cubs for their series opener against the Cardinals on May 3 at Wrigley Field. But he is not sure yet when he will be back with the team.
"It's been a lot of hard work. A lot of self-reflecting and a lot of self-growth," Russell said of his time away from the game. "They have a high standard for me, and as we are right now, I think I've hit all those standards. I'm just working on myself."
The 25-year-old Russell was once considered one of baseball's top young infielders. He helped the Cubs win the World Series three years ago, batting .238 with 21 homers and 95 RBIs in 151 games as the team snapped a 108-year championship drought.
The Cubs faced criticism for retaining Russell after his suspension. And while Russell received a largely warm reception in his season debut on Wednesday - when he singled and scored two runs against Nashville - it is unclear how he will be received in Chicago.
"Everyone is entitled to their opinion. But I really have been putting up some great work on trying to become a better person," Russell said. "People don't get it right the first time. But I'm just excited to get a second chance."
Even if Russell does get one, it might not be at shortstop.
Javy Baez, who moved across the diamond after Russell's suspension and wound up finishing second in the National League MVP race last year, has started 22 games at shortstop for a team that has won 11 of its last 16 games after a dismal start.
Russell was scheduled to start at shortstop and hit third on Thursday for the I-Cubs.
"Everyone knows that I'm willing to play another role," Russell said of a possible move back to second base, where he played as a rookie in 2015. "I'm totally OK with that."
AP Sports Writer Jay Cohen in Chicago contributed to this report.
More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports