PITTSBURGH – After appearing in 17 consecutive games during mid-May, Chicago Cubs third baseman Mike Olt's playing time has been reduced again amid an 0-for-16 slump over his past six games that has dropped his batting average to .153. Olt, who didn't start Monday night against the Pittsburgh Pirates, hasn’t seen .200 since April 23, prompting manager Rick Renteria to be asked if Olt might be better served by being sent down to the minors.
“If that’s ever to be a situation that we would consider that would be something we would be talking about [internally],” Renteria said. “Right now he’s here with us. He’s going to continue to develop his skills here.”
But it just won’t be in an everyday situation or close to it right now. The Cubs are back to finding the right matchups for Olt, who has struck out 55 times in 137 at-bats.
“We’re going to pick the matchups that put him in a position to have success,” Renteria said. “We want him to know he shouldn’t be too concerned about anything. Things happen. You have hiccups. I know there was a time when he was doing very, very well and everybody wanted him in there every single day so we started putting him in there. You give him rope and allow them to go out there and perform and feel the landscape. Now we’re going to pull back a little bit.”
It’s hard to argue with Renteria’s philosophy right now. We’ll never know if the Cubs handled Olt's playing time correctly out of spring training, where he won a roster spot with a solid showing. But when his playing time did increase, Olt never fully got going. There were moments where it looked like a streak was coming, but they were always followed by a slump.
“It doesn’t mean he’s not going to get back to that opportunity,” Renteria continued. “It’s going to be the same way [as before]. We’re going to try and find spots.”
And Renteria says he’s not concerned with the strikeout totals because Olt has the ability to put a charge into a baseball. He has nine home runs but none since May 18.
“I don’t know if his strikeouts have historically been where they’re at, they probably are,” Renteria said. “He’s going to have a ‘swing and a miss.’ We’re not worried about that. What we’d like to see more of is when he gets in there, have good at-bats and give himself a chance to barrel a ball up.”
At 35 percent, his strikeout ratio actually is higher than it ever was in the minors, including last season, when he had vision problems. It was 30 percent then; from 2010-12 it was right around 24 percent, so it has gone up a considerable amount.
The Cubs are choosing the in-between solution for Olt. They’ll find the matchups they think he can be successful with. The other two options are full-time at-bats in the minors or full-time at-bats in the majors. The time might be coming for the former over the latter, but the Cubs aren’t giving up.
“He’s on the bench,” Renteria said. “He’s still going to have some tough at-bats against some tough righties or lefties, whatever the case might be. And that’s not the easiest thing to do. He’s dealing with all these little blows and bumps and bruises.”