Mike Olt making case to stay at 3B as Cubs hammer D-Backs
BY GORDON WITTENMYER Sports Reporter April 22, 2014 10:14PM
Updated: April 22, 2014 11:20PM
Mike Olt isn’t going to suddenly turn the Cubs into a playoff team. But three weeks into the season, he’s going to get his chance to be their starting third baseman.
And whether he can claim a building-block place in their big-picture rebuilding plans may finally be up to the former first-round draft pick acquired from Texas in the Matt Garza trade last July.
After Olt hit his fourth home run – a three-run shot in the fifth, into the right-field wind – to help beat the Arizona Diamondbacks 9-2, Cubs manager Rick Renteria said he plans to scrap the third-base rotation he’d used since the season started.
“We’ve talked about gradually getting him into that role,” Renteria said. “Do I plan on playing him [Wednesday]? Yes.
“Everything’s very calculated. So I’m going to throw him out there and let him run with it a little bit. We’re still measuring everything; we’re still trying to be kind of guarded, but he’ll be in there tomorrow again.”
Olt, 25, is hitting only .195 this season, but his four home runs in just 10 starts leads the team, and his nine RBIs are tied for the team lead.
The Cubs are 4-0 when he homers.
“That’d be great,” Olt said of getting regular playing time. “I definitely did a lot of work to get myself ready. I definitely feel I’m ready for the task and can build off the last couple games and go from there.”
He has started three of the Cubs’ last four games, and the Cubs have won two of them.
Olt, who was rated the 22nd best prospect in baseball by Baseball America a year ago, only became available in a trade because of vision and tear-duct problem that ruined his minor-league season last year.
But with those problems clearly behind him during a productive spring at the plate, the only physical challenge seemed to be a sore throwing shoulder the training staff nursed through the spring and into April.
He suggested that, too, may be in the past with a play leading off the fourth inning in which he lunged for a chopper at the line, then threw quickly, off-balance, to get the speedy Tony Campana by a half-step at first.
Olt’s homer Tuesday broke open a 2-0 game and helped first-year Cubs pitcher Jason Hammel (3-1, 2.60 ERA) cruise to another victory.
Three of Olt’s homers have come in Hammel’s three victories.
“Mike thinks he has to hit a home run every time I pitch, so that’s fine with me,” said Hammel. who faced the minimum through 4 2/3 innings, allowing only a pair of infield hits that were erased with double plays in that span.
Said Olt: “If he wants to buy dinner, I’ll take him up on it.”
Hammel, who’s expected to be this year’s one-year-contract flip guy at the trade deadline, pitched his fourth quality starts in as many tries. He has gone seven innings in all but one (6 2/3 innings in his season debut).
The only loss Hammel suffered was last week in New York when Masahiro Tanaka shut out the Cubs.
The victory snapped a streak of 11 consecutive series losses for the Cubs, who assured no worse than a split of this four-game set against Arizona. The last time they won a series was Sept. 9-11 against Cincinnati.
With Monday’s 5-1 win over Arizona, they have their first pair of back-to-back victories since that Cincinnati series.