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Epstein on Baez: 'He's a fighter'

MILWAUKEE -- Javier Baez might be struggling through his first call-up to the major leagues, but the Chicago Cubs are hardly down on infielder. No one likes seeing 90 strikeouts in fewer than 50 career games, but what the Cubs do like is his attitude and fight. Baez will get every chance to take what he's learning this season and start to turn things around next.

“In some ways it’s gone as expected,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said Friday afternoon. “He’s extraordinarily talented but very raw. He hasn’t quite learned a consistent approach where he swings at the pitches he wants to swing at, so he’s letting the pitcher dictate the course of the at-bat by not being selective enough. When you do that in the big leagues, it can get ugly in a hurry.”

In every interview about Baez, his age is bound to come up. At just 21, he’s still learning on the job. And Epstein was quick to point out the positives. This isn’t a player losing his mind and subsequently his entire game because he was hitting .161 entering play Friday.

“It’s really important to recognize what he’s done defensively,” Epstein said. “He’s played an incredible shortstop. Beyond the tools, he’s shown a great baseball head on his shoulders. He’s won the respect of the veterans here. That’s big. That’s not to be taken for granted for a 21-year-old to do that.”

The Cubs are rallying around Baez, with manager Rick Renteria saying similar things. And they’re not wrong. Baez hasn’t taken his offensive issues to the clubhouse or out onto the field. And while his numbers are ugly -- even for a 21 year-old rookie call-up -- he’s a talented player. With his massive swings come the good and the bad. We saw the good when he first came up from Triple-A, but then came the swings-and-misses. There have been a lot of them.

“His confidence is high,” Renteria said. “He’s continuing to understand he needs to make adjustments. He knows he can do better. He’s done a great job with a little bit of adversity.”

Epstein talked extensively how it takes a player time to “get comfortable,” and sometimes that change comes in the offseason. He likened it to adjustments made by Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro last winter. If Baez can really figure it at such a young age, all the struggles over the past few months will be worth it. By the same token, it could be another year or longer before it comes together.

“You can’t just tell someone to get comfortable,” Epstein said. “It takes time.”

Of course, you have to believe in the player in the first place. The Cubs do, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if a portion of the fan base did not. Baez's pitch selection hasn’t exactly been improving as much as some would like.

“He’s very aware of that dynamic and how he needs to adjust to fix it,” Epstein said.

But again, telling someone to fix it and even showing him on video can’t always do the job without the player coming to it on his own. By all accounts, Baez is getting there, but the results might not show up until next season. The Cubs are hopeful.

“He’s a fighter,” Epstein said. “He doesn’t back down from challenges. He doesn’t get embarrassed about things. He just keeps coming back and trying to find a way.

“Sometimes it takes the offseason in baseball to make those adjustments.”