Cubs to increase Vitters' playing time soon

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs will start to pick up the pace on Josh Vitters' cautious introduction to life in the major leagues and increase his playing time this week.

Sunday marked the eighth game Vitters had been on the Cubs roster, but he had started in only three of them. He was not in the starting lineup Sunday against the Cincinnati Reds.

Starting with the next series against Houston Astros, though, things will change.

“I think after today he’ll probably play all three games against Houston and then we’ll kind of see after that,” manager Dale Sveum said. “At least the first two he’ll probably play. It’s going to start gradually.”

The right-handed hitting Vitters has made two starts against a left-handed pitcher and one against a right-hander on Friday against the Reds. The Astros are scheduled to use three right-handers in the upcoming series.

“It is a combination of the matchups and putting him in situations (where he can have success),” Sveum said. “He’s a great fastball hitter so we’ll put him in early on situations where the matchups are in his favor.”

Defense has been the biggest knock on Vitters, but he has already made a pair of spectacular diving plays, one to his left and one to his right, while also making a fielding error.

“I can tell just by the ground balls, watching him (during batting practice) that he’s improved quite a bit with everything,” said Sveum, who first saw Vitters in spring training.

Outside of the notable plays, though, Vitters hasn’t been tested much at third base yet.

“That will be the evaluation in the next 50 games or however many he plays,” Sveum said. “He hasn’t really been exposed a lot defensively besides two diving plays and another routine ball. But this is a lot of evaluation and we’ll see where we’re at as soon as he’s gotten exposed with game-time ground balls and everything.”

Despite a .125 batting average (2-for-16) in the early going, the Cubs have been satisfied with Vitters’ at-bats.

“His swing should definitely play at the big leagues,” said Sveum, who projects Vitters to easily be a guy who can hit 20 home runs a season. “He has great hands. He doesn’t have what I call dead hands. His hands are very live to where he’s a great fastball hitter and great fastball hitters usually survive or do well at this level.”