Olt delivering on power potential

CHICAGO -- Mike Olt hit his first home run this year off somebody not named Wandy Rodriguez, setting the tone on a cool Wrigley Field afternoon that did not seem inviting for long balls.

Darwin Barney and Welington Castillo followed with their own home runs for the Cubs, who entered tied with the San Diego Padres for last in the National League with 10 long balls.

The Cubs parlayed all the power into an 8-4 victory, matching an April 6 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies for most runs scored in a game this year.

“It’s definitely what we need,” Olt said of an 11-hit afternoon that helped to end a five-game losing streak. “It only takes one game or one at-bat to really get a team going, so hopefully we come in tomorrow and stay focused, and I guess start back where we left off.”

The right-handed hitting Olt showed his power capabilities this spring with five home runs in 19 Cactus League games, a performance that helped him to earn a roster spot. Maintaining that type of production, though, was going to be tough while sharing time at third with the left-handed hitting Luis Valbuena.

Olt has started in just half of the team’s 16 games, and the stop-start playing time has shown up in a .212 batting average and .257 on-base percentage. But he has managed to deliver on power potential with three home runs in 33 at-bats. Everybody else with multiple home runs on the Cubs' roster has at least 46 at-bats.

A key component in last year’s trade that sent Matt Garza to the Texas Rangers, Olt continues to show that the deal has a chance to pay huge dividends. After all, C.J. Edwards and Justin Grimm came to the Cubs, as well.

For Olt, his season could depend on finding consistency in an inconsistent world that has him starting one day and pinch hitting the next.

He followed his productive spring with a home run off Rodriguez, the Pittsburgh Pirates left-hander, in the third game of the season. When the Pirates came to Chicago a week later, Olt did the same thing to Rodriguez. His home run Saturday came against Reds left-hander Tony Cingrani.

Right-handers have been more of an issue. When the Reds switched to right-hander Logan Ondrusek in the sixth inning, Olt struck out. It was his seventh strikeout against right-handers this season, compared with three against lefties.

Until results such as those change, the platoon will continue, regardless of how Valbuena performs. Shoring up defensive miscues will be key, as well. He booted a ground ball that allowed a run to score in the seventh inning and practically compounded the issue when he then threw wildly to first base. He was spared another error when first baseman Anthony Rizzo quickly tracked down the ball.

It cut the Cubs’ lead to just two runs at the time, but the offense rebounded with two more in the bottom of the seventh.

“I definitely shouldn't have thrown it, but that happens,” Olt said.

Miscues like that figured to be remedied with more experience at the big league level. Between his 16 games with the Rangers in 2012, his full year at Triple-A last year and his 14 games with the Cubs this season, he is starting to make more sense of things.

“What I have taken from the last couple of years is learning how to evaluate how other hitters are being approached by the pitcher and pick up certain tendencies,” he said. “I’m paying attention a lot more to the game and understanding it so it will definitely carry over.”