CHICAGO – Chicago Cubs third baseman Mike Olt chuckled when he heard a statistic about himself after he hit his first career grand slam Thursday night, helping his team to a 12-5 victory over the Chicago White Sox.
Olt has nearly as many home runs, six, as he does singles (seven).
“That is unusual,” he said. “I’m starting to understand myself as a hitter and what I need to do and what I need to work on. It was a long month. I’ll take the positives and go from there.”
While Cubs fans were undoubtedly fixated on his power and his under-.200 batting average, Olt hasn’t let it bother him. Maybe after going through a hellish season last year, during which he experienced vision problems, he’s not too concerned with a slump to start this one. Olt admitted that he’s a slow starter -- and it hasn’t exactly been hitting weather.
“You don’t want to make any excuses, but there have been some games that have been tough to play,” Olt said. “Definitely feels good to get out there in warm weather.”
If you’re an Olt fan, you can find enough mitigating circumstances to keep believing him. Between his traditional slow start, nearly a year of missed good at-bats, the weather and not getting consistent playing time, Olt’s best days could be ahead of him.
“I got myself out a lot,” he said of his struggles. “Didn’t have a great approach. Swinging at bad pitches, getting behind in counts. I have a new approach and I’m going to go with that.”
You can’t deny the power. His first grand slam came on a 3-2 pitch in the eighth inning to extend a 7-4 lead to 11-4 and put the game away. He hit everything hard in spring training, but making contact has been an issue since the regular season started. Not all went right Thursday, as Olt struck out for the 28th time in 76 at-bats.
Olt doesn’t want to know his stats, including that low batting average, which sits at .184 after Thursday’s 2-for-4 effort.
“It’s tough when they put it [batting average] on the scoreboard,” Olt said. “It all evens out in the end. I’ve had way worse slumps, stints like that. I’m not worried about that.”
Olt’s big problem has been thinking too much at the plate. In doing so he’s gotten behind in counts too often. He’s way above the league average in that category. Anyone who follows the game knows things don’t typically end well for a hitter who is consistently looking at 0-2 and 1-2. But at least Olt has that power to fall back on.
“He has a chance every time he puts the barrel on a baseball to really drive the ball,” Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. “That’s evident in what he’s been doing.”
The Cubs want to find out if Olt is one of their core players. He has already shown he can hit the ball a mile. Now, can he hit it more often?
“I can’t change the way I’ve been doing things with one swing,” he said. “It has to be consistent. Cutting down on stupid swings is first.”