By Meghan Montemurro
CHICAGO – Major League Baseball’s hottest-hitting rookie has proven he’s capable of impacting a game with a single swing of his bat.
And though Los Angeles Dodgers phenom Yasiel Puig has experienced his fair share of heroic moments, it’s Cubs outfielder Junior Lake who leads all rookies for most hits since the All-Star break. His 55 hits – ahead of the Mets’ Juan Lagares (53) – have helped quiet some of his doubters.
Lake’s production hasn’t surprised manager Dale Sveum. One day after Lake hit his first career grand slam, Sveum believes Lake possesses the power and ability to hit 15 home runs in a season.
“He’s got tremendous raw ability,” Sveum said. “We’ve obviously gotten to witness that since the All-Star break. The power is there.”
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But despite Lake’s success, Sveum is sticking with an outfield rotation which forced Lake to the bench Saturday against the Milwaukee Brewers. Sveum stacked the lineup with five left handers since Milwaukee started right-hander Johnny Hellweg. That gave Ryan Sweeney the start in center field with Brian Bogusevic in left field.
“Looking ahead to the pitchers, matchups, splits and all that you kind of try to figure it out the best you can,” Sveum said. “It’s not a perfect science.”
Cubs ready to see Baker
As right-hander Scott Baker prepares to make his first major league appearance in nearly two years when he starts Sunday against the Brewers, the Cubs don’t expect to hold him back.
Sveum said he doesn’t plan to limit Baker though added he will likely keep Baker’s pitch count around 90 with no more than 100 pitches thrown. Sunday marks Baker’s first start in the majors since Aug. 8, 2011.
“We’ll just see how things go,” Sveum said. “We have plenty of guys in the bullpen now. It’s not a necessity to do anything but evaluate and let him go pitch.”
Coming off Tommy John surgery, Baker hasn’t exactly dazzled in his eight minor league rehab starts this season. Baker went 1-3 with a 5.46 ERA between Class-A Kane County and High-A Daytona. He allowed 35 hits in 29 2/3 innings, but perhaps most concerning was his fastball that struggled to hit 90 mph. However, Sveum avoided labeling Baker’s start as an evaluation for a potential return next year.
“He’s done everything we’ve asked,” Sveum said. “He’s worked hard. He’s an ultimate professional. He’s had success at the big league level.”
First baseman Anthony Rizzo hasn’t performed as well as many hoped he would in his first full season with the Cubs.
Even though Rizzo is hitting .232 with a .327 on-base percentage, Sveum still categorized the 24-year-old’s performance as a “pretty good year” considering the circumstances. Rizzo leads the Cubs with 21 home runs and 73 RBIs.
“Many people in this game would take 85-90 RBIs and 25 home runs,” Sveum said. “We’re down on the averages and all that, but the bottom line is it’s been a good learning year for him and understanding playing every day.”