MESA, Ariz. -- Monday’s pregame conversation with Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon inevitably landed on the issue of strikeouts. The team that did it the most in 2014 had 12 in the first six innings of a 6-4 Cactus League loss to the Texas Rangers on Sunday. The face of all those whiffs for the Cubs is infielder Javier Baez. He struck out three times on Sunday and has four in eight at-bats this spring after compiling 225 last year.
“He’s thinking too much,” Maddon said. “He’s getting a lot of information from all of us and sometimes I think it’s our fault. I just want to leave him alone and let him play. I’m not concerned. The guy cares so much.”
There’s a progression going on with Baez that simply may or may not end well. He struggles, recognizes he needs to make changes and goes about doing so. He drops weight, adjusts his approach and swing but the results don’t come right away. Odds are they wouldn’t. So now the coaches say they need to back off and just let him play.
“It’s a long process,” Baez said before Monday’s game against the San Diego Padres. “(Yesterday) I was worrying too much about the mechanics so that’s why I was completely lost.”
All of that is understandable. But when does it start to sound like an excuse? The Cubs can’t keep pushing the ball down the road for Baez. Not with a win-now mentality and players behind him who could get the job done better.
“As we continue along I think you’re going to start to see him make his adjustments and become more comfortable,” Maddon said. “He’s applying a little pressure on himself right now. I’m really not worried. I’ve been around guys like him before. He needs to play and relax.”
Again, everything that Maddon is saying might be true, but the process Baez is in the middle of eventually has to show results or we’ll look back on this and say it was a failure. Some probably believe it’s destined to be one, considering he’s shown little success so far. There needs to be some good signs, right?
“I talk to him daily,” Maddon said. “Don’t make it complicated.”
There’s nothing wrong with giving Baez more time. This is what spring training is for. Especially with a very young player who has made drastic changes. He did have one good early at-bat this spring in which he shortened up with two strikes and hit a fly ball instead of swinging and missing.
Maddon might be trying to convince himself the strikeouts are going to come down for Baez and his team over time. He might be right. But until we see it, there will be skeptics. And they would be justified.
“Another new manager. Another guy they’re trying to impress,” Maddon said. “Even though I tell them not to. I know they’re going to try to.”
Talk will eventually get old. And they’ll sound like excuses. Not now. Not yet. But soon. Jon Lester said it over the weekend.
“Time to grow up.”
The Cubs need Baez to make more contact. If he does, he has a spot on this team. If not, it will be someone else’s turn. The point is, at some point the talk has to give way to production. That answers all questions. Maddon was asked if Baez is his starter at second base.
“I can’t tell you that specifically but he’s definitely a very strong candidate for that position,” Maddon responded.