MILWAUKEE – Carlos Zambrano once grabbed a bat from the dugout rack and told reporters: “Pay attention.”
Zambrano gripped it to show where to put your hands. The key, he said, is to focus on one spot in the middle, because if you go too far in one direction, you’ll wind up on the disabled list. That Wrigley Field demonstration on how to snap a bat over your knee probably didn’t make it into “The Cubs Way” manual.
But Junior Lake still pulled it off at Miller Park, reaching his boiling point during Friday’s 5-2 loss to Matt Garza and the Milwaukee Brewers.
Cubs manager Rick Renteria downplayed the incident on Saturday, saying it was no big deal: “Not to me, as long as he didn’t get hurt. I would have been very upset if he had been hurt. But he was just frustrated.”
Renteria did make sure to have a chat with Lake, who endured an 0-for-3 night, striking out twice, misplaying a key fly ball in left field and making the wrong decision to throw home on another play. It’s all part of the learning curve for the 24-year-old converted infielder.
“You have conversations and continually address issues that occur,” Renteria said. “You do it in a classroom-type setting. You talk about it. You go over it. You run through the same scenarios you would with anybody still developing as an outfielder: What was the thought process? What were you thinking? Who was running? Who was on the bases? What actions do you take?
“We talk to them about the fatigue factor that occurs when you play in a major-league ballgame. It’s not the physical fatigue. It’s the actual being ready for every potential play that occurs, so you’re thinking it all through.
“You’re talking about you – as an individual – knowing what you’re supposed to do and running the scenarios over after every single pitch.”
This is still the big leagues, but the Cubs are writing off seasons for player development. Lake has a lot of raw talent and athleticism, but he’s hitting only .224 with two homers, four RBI and three stolen bases through 20 games.
“He cares. All these guys care. I don’t think that is even an issue,” Renteria said. “What we have to continue to address as a team is that we have an idea and a purpose and the mindset of what we need to do when we’re out there playing the game of baseball. Every day’s a class day. Every day’s a test.”