CHICAGO – It might be baby steps, but Chicago Cubs manager Rick Renteria said he liked what he saw in young second baseman Javier Baez on Saturday -- at least compared to Friday. Baez struck out three more times against the Tampa Bay Rays in a 4-0 loss, but it was one fewer than the previous day, and one long Saturday at-bat did end with Baez doubling on the 10th pitch.
“In terms of results I take it one step at a time,” Renteria said after the game. “His approaches today were much quieter.”
In other words, Baez’s swings weren’t completely out of control -- and for the fences -- though it’s sometimes hard to tell the difference. The good news came in the form of that 10-pitch battle in the sixth inning against Rays starter Jake Odorizzi. Baez had already struck out twice, once looking and once swinging.
“I was letting the ball get deep and I hit it pretty good,” Baez said of the shot to the left-field wall.
The complete narrative to this game includes his teammates as well. They struck out 12 times to bring the Cubs' total to 15. Luis Valbuena went down four times via strikeout, Starlin Castro twice. Baez was asked if high strikeout totals were a concern to him. He’s fanned 10 times in five games in the majors after striking out 130 times in Triple-A this season.
“I’m not going to change my approach because I strike out a lot,” he responded. “I just have to be patient and get a good pitch to hit.”
“Patience” can be a four-letter word for a young hitter. Baez said he isn’t feeling pressure to prove he belongs, and he’s not exactly doing anything he wasn’t doing in the minors. It’s simply going to take time. It was as predictable about him as anything. A free swinger needs to learn when to take the big cut and when not to.
“His at-bats today were visibly more controlled,” Renteria said. “I think he was trying to work the pitcher a little more. He was very conscientious of his at-bats.”
The sixth-inning double could have opened the door for some good things to come, but Baez struck out again in the ninth to slow the momentum. He’s 2-for-9 in the series, with every out coming by strikeout. But the learning process has begun. What better time to do it than the final two months of a lost season.
“I was being patient but still chasing a lot of pitches out of the zone,” Baez said. “You’re going to learn something every day. I’ve heard people talk about being in the big leagues 20 years and they’re still learning from the game.”
School might be starting in the coming weeks for kids, but class is in session now for the 21-year-old slugger.
Jumping the gun: As has been known to happen in the world of social media, the Cubs' official Twitter account was a little ahead of the game in sending out Saturday's final score. In the end, the Cubs did nothing on the field to force an update, but the team nevertheless tweeted an apology some 20 minutes later:
#Cubs fans, we apologize for the accidental update sent before the game ended a moment ago. It was a mistake and shouldn't have happened.
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) August 9, 2014