CHICAGO -- Chicago Cubs manager Dale Sveum just can’t seem to avoid these pupil-meets-former-teacher confrontations.
The latest one begins Tuesday at Wrigley Field when the Detroit Tigers and slugger Prince Fielder come to town for a three-game interleague series. Fielder is in his first season in the American League, signing a nine-year, $214 million deal this winter.
Sveum was a Milwaukee Brewers coach for six of the seven seasons Fielder spent with the Brewers, including the last three seasons as hitting coach.
Under Sveum’s tutelage, Fielder delivered his two highest RBI totals in a season, driving in 120 runs last season and a whopping league-leading 141 in 2009. Fielder’s two highest batting averages also came with Sveum as his batting coach. He batted .299 in both 2009 and 2011.
“It will be good to see him,” Sveum said. “He’s one of my favorite guys I’ve ever been around or coached. I don’t want to see him in the lineup, but it will be good to see him again and all that. He’s one of those special guys and not even because of his numbers, just the way he plays the game."
After a slow start in his transition to American League pitching, Fielder is back to being the offensive force he always has been. His 10 home runs while playing most of his games in spacious Comerica Park project lower than his career norm, but he still has 40 RBIs and a .316 batting average. He also has a rapidly improving .509 slugging percentage that was below .400 at the start of May.
“He comes to win, and he cares as much as anybody I’ve ever been around,” Sveum said. “He was always a phenomenal guy to just talk hitting and goof around and all that stuff. He’s just one of my favorites, a guy you’ll never forget and you’ll always pull for just hopefully not those three days.”
If Fielder’s career numbers at Wrigley Field are any indication, those three days this week could spell trouble. In 49 career games on the North Side, Fielder has 11 home runs, 34 RBIs, a .298 batting average and a 1.003 OPS.
Just as when the Cubs faced the Brewers this season, Sveum knows the strengths of the opposing personnel. In the upcoming case it will just be the knowledge of Fielder's game. But it’s one thing to know the details of a players’ weakness and it’s another thing to exploit them. The Cubs are just 3-7 against the Brewers this season.
So can he make his knowledge of Fielder’s tendencies work for the Cubs this time?
“I know but you have to execute as much as anything,” Sveum said. “There are some things I see he’s doing a little bit better that he struggled with the last couple of years. We’ll see with the stuff we’ve got.
“There are ways to get him out but there’s still the execution factor and getting ahead in the count that has to do with everything when you’re trying to put a sequence together to get especially those elite hitters out.”