PITTSBURGH Bryan LaHair knows the trend line, and understands that what he does will be magnified.
The Cubs first baseman gets that its easy to pick out a bad week or two. Its hard to blend in when youre the cleanup hitter for a team on a 10-game losing streak.
LaHair emerged as a bright spot in April, ending the month hitting .390, and it became a story of perseverance. A former 39th-round pick, he had spent parts of the past six seasons on the Triple-A level, and was willing to go play winter ball in Venezuela.
LaHair woke up on Saturday with 10 home runs, tied with Paul Konerko for the major-league lead among first basemen. But his average had dropped 89 points. He was 1-for-25 in his previous nine games. It hasnt shaken his confidence.
Im not getting it done, LaHair said. Im not going to sugarcoat anything. I havent been doing my job to the best of my ability and its tough to do that for (162 games). These kind of things happen. As soon as the season starts, I accept that theres going to be certain parts where I struggle.
Im prepared for it. Its not something I want to happen. But now the challenge is to get past this and get back on track. I got no question Im going to do it. Theres no doubt in my mind.
LaHair looked relaxed sitting in the chair in front of his locker, and he didnt sound the least bit defensive. He believes in all the work that he put in to get to this point, that its made him more mature, better equipped to handle failure.
Its not like LaHair was putting up numbers in garbage time. Seven of his 10 homers have either tied a game or given the Cubs a lead.
Theo Epsteins front office likes LaHairs overall approach, which is why last winter they reassured the Pacific Coast League MVP that thered be a place for him here.
LaHair has been seeing 4.27 pitches per plate appearance, which ranked eighth in the National League. He reached base safely in 32 consecutive games between April 8 and May 15.
Before LaHair cooled off, the team president explained why this shouldnt be a mirage.
The results probably arent going to be this Ruthian, so to speak, Epstein said recently, but I think the quality of at-bats will remain consistent. Its not a fluke. Hes doing things the right way. Hes recognizing pitches out of the pitchers hand really early. Hes letting the ball travel and get deep. Hes really short and compact to the ball.
Hes hitting the ball hard. Hes hitting it where its pitched and hes covering just about the whole strike zone. So hes going to go through slumps and everything, but its really encouraging. Not just what hes doing, but how hes accomplishing it.
LaHair has come back down to earth, part of the natural regression as the advanced scouting picks up and pitchers learn more about his game. Manager Dale Sveum, a former hitting coach, has been a big advocate, but sees a few holes.
Hes getting to the point now where I think hes starting to guess along with the pitcher (and) you cant do that, Sveum said. Hes just not taking his walks. (Its) swinging out of the strike zone, trying to do too much (or) trying to put all the weight on his shoulders.
LaHair wants that responsibility, and isnt looking over his shoulder at first base, even though top prospect Anthony Rizzo is coming fast. The Cubs will want to find ways to put those two left-handed bats in the middle of the order.
LaHair doesnt have to be Babe Ruth, but he could still be in the All-Star conversation.
The whole point of Epsteins year of evaluation was to open up opportunities for the future, and give someone like LaHair 500 or 600 at-bats to finally show whether or not he belongs.
These guys believe in me, LaHair said. The confidence level as far as every time I walk to the box hasnt changed from the first six weeks. Its just when thoughts creep into your mind (you have to remember) its what happens. Its baseball. Im not intimidated by struggling.