Eventually, Cubs will give Mike Olt the chance to sink or swim

Eventually, Cubs will give Mike Olt the chance to sink or swim
May 13, 2014, 10:00 pm
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ST. LOUIS – OMG! Mike Olt’s not in the lineup!

Yes, the reactions on Twitter and the tone of Rick Renteria’s pregame media sessions have taken a 180-degree turn – one week after the Cubs manager was getting asked about the possibility of sending the slumping third baseman to Triple-A Iowa.

“Everybody likes the long ball,” Renteria said Tuesday while answering questions about the Olt obsession.

The night before, Olt homered for the fourth time during this road trip, helping spark that 17-run explosion against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium. Olt still sat against Adam Wainwright, because he had never faced the All-Star right-hander before, while Luis Valbuena (four doubles in 14 at-bats) and Darwin Barney (.724 OPS) had good career numbers against Wainwright.

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“We’re trying to balance it all out,” Renteria said before a 4-3 loss that went 12 innings. “We’re just trying to give ourselves the best chance.”

Even before Valbuena slammed a two-run homer off Wainwright that traveled 373 feet and bounced off the video board above the right-field wall, Renteria signaled that he’s not ready to set a lineup or install Olt as his no-doubt, everyday third baseman.

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“We’re still mixing and matching,” Renteria said, “and will probably continue to do so, until we, in general, just draw a conclusion as to where we see they’re all at. But I think the way we balance it out, everybody’s getting at-bats, everybody’s playing. So I think it’s, to this point, advantageous for us to keep them all getting into the lineup at some point and letting them play.”

Olt began the day leading an offensively challenged team in homers (eight) and tied for second in RBI (19), while also hitting .187 with seven walks and 32 strikeouts in 91 at-bats. He’s started at third base in 21 of the team’s 38 games.

“If you look across the board, when guys are starting to develop their skills, there’s a point when they end up facing everybody that’s thrown out there,” Renteria said.

But Olt’s not there yet?

“Well, we’re growing to that point,” Renteria said. “I think his confidence level continues to grow. And once we all feel satisfied where he’s at, then we’ll make that determination and make the adjustment. Right now, we’re really happy with how he’s going about doing everything he’s doing.”

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These are your 2014 Chicago Cubs. Olt is 25 years old and once had that top-prospect pedigree, giving him a chance to maybe be here on the other side of the rebuild.

When an organization writes off major-league seasons – and if no one inside is going to get judged on wins and losses – then the manager will be second-guessed on how he runs the game, interprets data, develops players and handles egos in the clubhouse. 

It’s a function of the news cycle: Team releases lineup, the Twitterverse goes wild breaking it down, the manager explains his decisions during the media briefing and something has to fill space on the Internet before first pitch.

It’s a quirk of the Chicago market, where Lou Piniella got sick of all the daily lineup questions.

It’s probably best to let it breathe and not treat every game like it’s the NFL. In the end, Olt will get his chance to sink or swim.

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“The fans want to see everybody succeed, they want them all to do well, and rightfully so,” Renteria said. “As we continue to move forward and these guys continue to develop who they are as players, their spots in the lineup continue to increase. And, obviously, their performances hopefully reflect that they’re playing more, and hopefully their production is good.”