Cubs backing LaHair despite struggles

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – A big, power-hitting first baseman is not unlike an 18-wheeler. Both can take some time to get going from a standing start.

So while Bryan LaHair remains in a low gear nine days into the Cactus League schedule, there remains every confidence that he can get up to speed in the final three weeks of spring training.

“He knows he’s not where he wants to be but unfortunately we keep facing left-handers too every day,” Cubs manager Dale Sveum said.

Indeed, the Cubs were facing Giants left-hander Madison Bumgarner on Tuesday and will get lefty Randy Wolf of the Brewers on Wednesday.

It hasn’t all been left-handed pitching that has hindered LaHair, who is saddled LaHair with a .176 batting average (3-for-17) in six games before play Tuesday. LaHair did not have an extra-base hit and had struck out four times.

While Anthony Rizzo (four hits in 13 at-bats) remains in the wings, Sveum still hasn’t budged from his intention to have LaHair start at first base on Opening Day. If there has been a slight adjustment to LaHair’s early struggles, it’s that Alfonso Soriano has moved in as the likely cleanup hitter with LaHair likely aimed at the No. 5 spot.

“That will all even out and then the big consistent at-bats will come that last 10 days of spring training after the [March 21] day off and these guys will get cooking,” Sveum said. “Minor league games will start so they will be able to go down to the minor-league camp and get eight, nine at-bats in a row, those kind of things, to get going that way.”

Barely a week of spring training games isn’t going let the Cubs’ staff to forget the 38 home runs, 109 RBIs and .331 batting average LaHair posted at Triple-A Iowa last season. So they will wait and watch and hope no more left-handed pitching comes their way.

“There are plenty of at-bats and plenty of time to get these guys’ swings going,” Sveum said. “But obviously we need these guys to be going Opening Day.”