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Brett Jackson, Josh Vitters shouldn’t be troubled by slow start

Josh Vitters Dale Sveum

Josh Vitters, Dale Sveum

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trial by fire

Nobody’s suggesting Brett Jackson or Josh Vitters is Hall of Fame-bound — or at this point even suggesting they should be in next year’s Opening Day lineup. But their slow starts since debuting Aug. 5 — Vitters 3-for-33, Jackson 3-for-25 — don’t look any worse than the career starts of a handful of Hall of Famers, including two Cubs:

Willie Mays

1951: 1-for-27 (.037)   
Then: Rookie of the Year

Ryne Sandberg

1981-82: 2-for-38 (.053)
Then: .271, 32 SB, 103 R in ‘82

Mickey Mantle

1951: 8-for-38 (.211), 0 HR
Then: 3rd in MVP vote, 1952

Frank Robinson 

1956: 6-for-34 (.176)
Then: Rookie of Year

Billy Williams

1959-60: 5-for-34 (.147) 
Then: Rookie of Year in ‘61

Updated: September 22, 2012 6:36AM

MILWAUKEE — The way Cubs veteran Alfonso Soriano sees it, the early struggles of prospects Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters might be the best thing that could happen for the long-term success of their careers.

“Not too many guys start out really good,’’ said Soriano, who struggled in parts of two seasons with the New York Yankees before launching an All-Star career with a big rookie season in 2001. “It’s good, though, because when you start doing good right away, you start thinking, ‘This feels easy.’ But it’s not easy in the big leagues.

“It’s good to start slow to make sure you know you have to work to be in the big leagues.’’

Consider it a hard-earned, well-learned lesson for both in just over two weeks in the majors. A lesson still ongoing. And a lesson that was all part of the team’s design in calling them up from Class AAA Iowa despite flaws in their games still apparent in the minors.

“We almost expect young guys to come up and struggle. That’s part of the growth process,’’ team president Theo Epstein said recently, invoking Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle as examples of players who struggled their first few weeks in the majors. “It doesn’t make it any easier to go through, but it is a natural step in the players’ development.’’

That’s not to say either one of these Cubs first-rounders is being ticketed for the Hall of Fame.

But, said Vitters, “That’s actually nice to hear him say that. I think I could have guessed that a lot of people struggle when they first get up here. But I’m hoping that I’m done with that for now and that I’ve learned enough, and that I’m going to start playing the way that I’ve been playing at Triple-A.’’

In fact, Vitters is showing signs of stirring offensively, despite part-time play since his recall. He entered his eighth career start Monday just 3-for-33 but delivered his first career home run in the fifth to extend a short-lived Cubs lead in their 9-5 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers.

He also committed an error at third base and skipped two throws to first for outs on a night that also offered a clear reminder of his Achilles heel.

For Jackson, the learning curve has been even steeper, committed to the starting center field job the rest of the season despite a strikeout-prone track record that has carried prolifically into his debut month (including a run of eight straight strikeouts in his first three games).

But Jackson, too, said he has felt more at ease at the plate during this road trip, which included his first homer Saturday and a ninth-inning double off Cincinnati Reds relief ace Aroldis Chapman on Sunday. And manager Dale Sveum lauded his progress in that four-game series in Cincinnati.

“I’m feeling the good parts of the transition now,’’ Jackson said, “and when a day doesn’t go as planned and you strike out a couple of times, you get back at it and work.

“Of course, you want to come up and have success like [the Los Angeles Angels’] Mike Trout out of the gate. But it only happens for a few guys.
. . . It goes back to the patience part of the game and really the patience part of life. It’s a very human response to be the best player you can be right now. I know how much ability I have and want to get the most out of that.

“I’m definitely learning the patience part of the game. I’m going to be patient and let some of those abilities come out with my work ethic and with time.’’

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