CHICAGO (AP) Although it was supposed to be a day off for Willson Contreras, the Cubs regular catcher was in the lineup playing left field on Saturday.
As far as manager Joe Maddon is concerned, Contreras can rest when he's not red hot at the plate.
Contreras homered and drove in three runs, Alex Avila homered for his first hit with the Cubs and Chicago beat the Washington Nationals 7-4 to even the series between division leaders.
Contreras is batting .444 (8 for 18) with three homers and 11 RBIs in the five games of the current home stand and has reached base in 19 straight.
''I had to keep him in the lineup,'' Maddon said. ''I mean, he's swinging the bat so well.''
Kris Bryant and Jon Jay each added a run-scoring hit as the Cubs snapped a three-game losing streak.
Bryce Harper hit his 28th homer and threw out a runner at third base for the Nationals, but struck out in two key spots.
John Lackey (9-9) allowed three runs (two earned) and six hits in five innings to win his fourth straight start. Wade Davis got the final three outs - striking out Harper, the potential tying run, to end it - for his 23rd save.
''He's definitely tough in that situation,'' Harper said of Davis. ''I had one pitch that I could drive and I hit it foul. I knew if I missed a pitch against him, it would be a tough at-bat.''
Harper also struck out against Lackey in the fifth with a runner in scoring position.
Washington starter Edwin Jackson (2-2) allowed four runs and six hits in five innings. Harper's solo shot in the first gave the Nationals a quick lead, but the Cubs responded with four in the bottom of the inning. Bryant drove in the first run with a double and Contreras followed with an RBI single to score Bryant. After a single by Ben Zobrist - Contreras was thrown out by Harper trying to advance to third - Avila's two-run shot made it 4-1.
''It felt really good,'' said Avila, who was acquired on Monday to back up Contreras. ''I glad to get it over with and out of the way.''
Washington scored twice in the fourth to make it 4-3. Anthony Rendon had a sacrifice fly and Matt Wieters added an RBI single.
Contreras' two-run blast off Matt Grace in the sixth was for a 6-3 lead and Jay's RBI single in the seventh made it 7-3.
The Nationals added an unearned run in the eighth to cap the scoring.
Contreras believes the key to his hot streak is simply taking advantage of the pitches he can handle.
''That's what hitting is all about,'' he said. ''Just being ready for your pitch, and if you get it, take advantage of it.''
Wieters, Washington's catcher, was ejected following the sixth by home plate umpire Chad Whitson. After Chicago's Jason Heyward struck out swinging to end the inning, Wieters turned toward Whitson and said something as he was leaving the field. Whitson immediately tossed Wieters.
''To be honest with you, he pretty much gave me the warning to quit arguing about balls and strikes,'' Wieters said. ''I was more arguing that they had a different strike zone than we had.''
Nationals: RHP Max Scherzer (stiff neck) won't take his regular turn on Sunday, but is improving and hopes to start Monday against Miami.
Cubs: 3B Bryant admits he still is bothered by a nagging injury to the pinkie on his left hand. ''It's something you've got to play through,'' he said. ''It's probably going to be there for another couple weeks.''
Cubs LHP Jon Lester (8-6, 3.96 ERA) will face RHP Erick Fedde (0-1, 15.75) in the finale of the three-game series. Lester is 3-0 with a 2.77 ERA in four starts since the All-Star break, while Fedde will be making his second major league start.
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