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Newcomer Junior Lake has four hits, including a homer, in Cubs’ 4-2 win

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Updated: July 31, 2013 5:45PM

PHOENIX – Are the Cubs any closer to having a competitive young core – or to actually winning again – than they were when Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer took over baseball operations 20 months ago?

The answer is supposed to be yes on a day like Monday, when they traded Matt Garza for at least four young players.

But Garza was their best pitcher and one of the hottest starters in the game (6-1, 1.24 last six starts). And nothing is a sure-thing when it comes to young baseball prospects.

If anything, it was a couple of players Epstein and Hoyer inherited who offered the most optimism-for-a-day to a loss-weary fan base.

Garza’s rotation fill-in Monday, lefty Chris Rusin, pitched well in his second short-notice start of the month, and Junior Lake continued to be one of the most exciting, damnedest players to happen to this team all year as the Cubs beat the Arizona Diamondbacks 4-2 to open a four-game series Monday night at Chase Field.

In his fourth day in the big leagues, Lake batted leadoff – despite delivering on a promise over the weekend to swing at the first pitch – and hit a mammoth home run for two of his three RBIs and one of his four hits Monday.

He also had two bunt singles, a big run-scoring single in the ninth, got thrown out again trying to steal second and once again piloted center field like he was navigating constant turbulence.

The 23-year-old shortstop-turned-third-baseman-turned-outfielder is playing like he doesn’t know this is supposed to be a weeklong debut, just until David DeJesus (shoulder) gets back from the disabled list – 9-for-17 so far in four games.

“It comes down to the at-bats,” manager Dale Sveum said of what it will take for Lake to stick longer on the big-league club. “He’s going to get a chance to face three lefties in [this series]. But I think the tell-tale will be how he handles the major-league right handed pitchers’ sliders and all that.”

The ninth-inning hit was off right-hander Will Harris.

“There’s got to be a point sometimes where if a guy’s doing well,” Sveum said, “that’s just the way it is. You keep him, and you find somewhere to play him.”

Rusin (1-1) was exceptional through five innings, coming up from AAA Iowa to pitch on the day of a trade for the second time this month. He got knocked around by the Oakland A’s pitching on short-rest July 2 after Scott Feldman was traded.

This time, he took a one-hit shutout into the sixth inning before giving up a leadoff double, followed by a walk and then exiting with 78 pitches thrown.

Both runners wound up scoring with Blake Parker on the mound.

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