Cubs send down struggling OF Junior Lake
BY GORDON WITTENMYER Staff Reporter August 15, 2014 10:11PM
Updated: August 16, 2014 2:12AM
NEW YORK — For those who weren’t sure earlier this week when the Cubs held bunting drills and pitchers’ fielding practice, it should be clear by now that 2015 spring training has begun in earnest.
Recently acquired right-hander Dan Straily joined the roster for a show-me spot start Saturday at Citi Field — with struggling outfielder Junior Lake optioned to Class AAA Iowa for the rest of the month to make room.
General manager Jed Hoyer said the front office might “try to do something creative” in a couple of weeks to open up more starts in the rotation down the stretch for Straily and two other recent acquisitions, Jacob Turner and Felix Doubront.
And by Sunday, another position-player prospect could join rookies Javy Baez and Arismendy Alcantara on the roster for a chance to make his case when Straily is sent back out.
With speculation already burning up Twitter late Friday night over the possibility of a Jorge Soler promotion, the $30 million outfield prospect was not expected to get that call as team officials prepared to huddle Saturday to make the decision.
Whether it’s somebody such as infielder Logan Watkins, outfielder Matt Szczur or even recently demoted (and raking) Mike Olt, the wheels are spinning like a turnstile on the Cubs’ late-season preparations for evaluating the 40-man roster and attacking offseason needs.
“Things are shaping up, for sure,” said left-hander Travis Wood, whose two walks in the fourth were his undoing in a 3-2 loss Friday to the Mets when Eric Campbell turned them into a three-run homer two batters later.
“You see how Alcantara’s doing, and Baez. Everybody’s coming up. [Kris] Bryant is still killing it down in the minors. And seeing them get their big-league experience can only benefit for next year. Straily’s going [Saturday], and hopefully he can have a good game and continue to learn.”
In the short term, that’s also what the demotion was about for Lake, who has played sparingly in recent weeks and remained on the big-league roster all year despite hitting .216 with a team-leading 102 strikeouts in 291 at-bats.
“This gives him an opportunity to get some at-bats the next 2½ to three weeks,” manager Rick Renteria said. “We tried to do everything we could throughout the season, especially early, to put him in a decent place. . . . He’s a little disappointed, but he’ll catch a breath of fresh air.”
By the time Lake returns in September, Soler could be coming with him.
And the learning process could be kicking into another gear for a front office starting to turn the corner from tear-down to buildup in this third-year overhaul.
That includes looks in the rotation at former Red Sox left-hander Doubront and former Marlins right-hander Turner, both acquired in trades over the last 2½ weeks.
The Cubs already cleared a 40-man spot as part of the roster planning with Thursday’s late-night trade of 2009 first-round pick Brett Jackson to the Diamondbacks.
And the “something creative” to open rotation opportunities could involve anything from late-season limits on younger pitchers to short-term use of six-man rotations to skipping struggling veteran Edwin Jackson or Wood.
Hoyer said the hope with Jackson is that he pitches enough — and well enough — to “find a solution” and “go into the offseason with a little momentum.”
Until then, nobody in the rotation is asking for even a day of extra rest.
“I know I don’t need one,” Wood (7-10, 4.86 ERA) said. “But if they need to see guys, hey, we’ll see them. They’ve got to get them in here and see what we’ve got.”