No pressure: Cubs waiting for Nate Schierholtz to get hot

No pressure: Cubs waiting for Nate Schierholtz to get hot
May 12, 2014, 11:15 am
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Tony Andracki

The Cubs offense has come under a lot of fire early this season, namely for their lack of support for starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija.

To borrow a throwaway line from reliever Justin Grimm during Crosstown last week: "the struggle is real."

Entering play Monday, the Cubs rank 27th in Major League Baseball in runs scored and 28th in team OPS (.647).

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This lineup wasn't built to out-slug opponents, but they have still underperformed as a group. Are they putting too much pressure on themselves?

"Definitely," Nate Schierholtz said. "When your pitchers are throwing well, you want to score as many runs as you can because they deserve a win. Obviously, Samardzija has deserved to win a lot of games so far and he hasn't.

"As an offense, all we can do is go out there and focus on having good at-bats. We haven't done our jobs when [Samardzija] has pitched.

"I can't speak for everyone, but early on, as a team, obviously we haven't swung the bats as well as we would've liked to or are capable of. It'll come around. It's early. All we can control is today."

Schierholtz has had his hand in the team's struggles. The Cubs rank last in the big leagues with a .528 OPS from their right fielders, where Schierholtz has started 27 of the Cubs' 36 games.

The eight-year MLB veteran carries a career .724 OPS, but sits at .499 right now, even after doubling and drawing a walk in four plate appearances Sunday.

Schierholtz got off to a good start last season - his first with the Cubs - posting an .825 OPS in the first half. But this year has been a different story.

"You'd like to forget about the first month and just continue to work on your approach and helping the team win and not getting down," he said. "With my stats, it's easy to get caught up with stuff like that. I just have to play every day like it's a new day and focus on that day and that pitcher and not focus on the past or the future.

"Everybody wants to get off to a good start. ... You just have to remind yourself that it's a long season. Whether you start hot or not, you go through ups and downs. The bottom line is, it always comes back and you always catch fire. It's just a matter of when."

The Cubs are counting on Schierholtz to catch fire, especially as an affordable asset who could draw interest at the trade deadline and at age 30, doesn't appear to fit into the team's long-term rebuilding plans.

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"I think he'll bounce back," Cubs GM Jed Hoyer said during the Crosstown series last week. "He's never played like this in his career and guys usually find their levels.

"If you look around baseball, most teams have a guy or two guys that are well below their career norms and probably have a guy or two who are well above. Usually those things level out.

"I actually look at it kind of as a weird positive. He's probably due for a really good hot streak and that should help us."

As a left-handed hitter, Schierholtz was out of the lineup a lot last year against southpaws as manager Dale Sveum played matchups.

Schierholtz admitted prior to the season that his goal was to get to play more against lefties, and he's actually performed significantly better against southpaws, hitting .269 with a .566 OPS compared to a .172 average and .480 OPS against righties.

"I worked a lot in spring training," he said. "I faced lefties all spring. I'd rather be hitting righties well and lefties worse, but this is just the way it's worked out.

"I take pride in hitting well off lefties and righties. For me, facing a lefty is an excuse to not get my hits and I still have to put in a good at-bat."

Schierholtz was always a Sveum guy, recruited by the former Cubs manager before last season. Sveum sold Schierholtz on Chicago by offering the veteran something he's never had in his career - consistent playing time.

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Schierholtz responded with a career year, hitting 32 doubles, 21 homers and driving in 68 runs while batting in the middle of the Cubs lineup.

With Sveum gone, Schierholtz had to prove himself all over again for manager Rick Renteria and his new coaching staff, a task that hasn't gone as Schierholtz has planned so far.

"It's a new field this year. We've got a whole new coaching staff," he said. "I wouldn't say it's the same as last year. I always feel like I put pressure on myself. It's not about proving to everyone else, it's about going out there and working hard.

"That's what lets me sleep at night, knowing I put in the hard work and effort to play the best I can."