CHICAGO – Could this be Chicago Cubs outfielder Junior Lake's last real chance this season at showing he belongs in a platoon or as an everyday starter going into 2015? The right-handed-hitting Lake is scheduled to play a lot during the next couple of weeks as the Cubs take on the lefty-heavy Colorado Rockies twice, with the Los Angeles Dodgers mixed in between those series.
“He’s going to have a nice opportunity to get into a lot of ballgames,” Cubs manager Rick Renteria said before his squad opened a four-game series with the visiting Rockies on Monday night. “We’re hoping he’ll have some good ballgames, something to build on, maybe build his confidence.”
Calling Lake’s season a mess right now might be an understatement. In no part of his game -- save possibly his defense -- has he built off a 2013 campaign in which he wowed fans with his power and athleticism. All his offensive numbers are down, while his strikeout rate is a whopping 34.3 percent. He entered Monday hitting .213.
“We know that he has skill,” Renteria said. “Maybe some of these matchups will allow him to go out there and have some good performances.”
The Cubs will face five consecutive left-handed starters this week, four with the Rockies and one Friday in Los Angeles. This is Lake’s chance to prove he might belong on the roster in some capacity next season. His numbers are better this year against lefties, though that’s not saying much. He's hitting .222 off them after hitting .377 last year. Renteria was asked if there was anything he wishes he could have done different with Lake, who has struck out 96 times in 280 plate appearances.
“I’m sure there are things we could have done better or differently,” Renteria responded. “Off the top of my head I can’t really tell you what those are. We’ve tried to concentrate more recently on him cleaning up his mechanics a little bit. On top of that, to make sure his mental approach is one that does not worry too much about the results. It’s a performance-based game, but you have to worry about the at-bat. The process of that at-bat. We’ve tried to hammer that a little bit more lately, especially since he hasn’t played very much.”
As with third baseman Mike Olt (now at Triple-A Iowa), Lake’s only argument with how he was handled was not getting enough regular at-bats at the beginning of the season. He played, but not every day. Renteria often talks about making sure young players don’t change their approach thinking they need to hit one day to play the next. The Cubs could have taken away that uncertainty by simply telling Lake he would play no matter what. But they chose not to. His season went into a tailspin, and playing even less hasn’t helped.
“Those things [the process] are key when you haven’t played very much because you have to slow the game down and not worry too much, ‘I have to hit to play tomorrow.’ Just have good at-bats,” Renteria said. “That’s what we’re focused on.”
Whether the Cubs made mistakes with Lake or not, he obviously hasn’t made the most of his opportunities. With September call-ups -- and potentially even less playing time -- not too far off, he’ll get one more good chance to prove himself.
The lefties await.