Rick Renteria defends late batting changes

CHICAGO -- Chicago Cubs manager Rick Renteria played the matchups in the eighth inning when his team was attempting to comeback from a 2-0 deficit.

After being shut down for seven innings against starter Brandon Cumpton, lefty reliever Tony Watson came in for the Pirates to start the eighth.

Watson has a 0.79 ERA on the season and for his career lefties have managed a .563 OPS against him. Righties don’t fare much better, with a collective OPS of .624 against Watson, but Renteria didn’t hesitate to pinch hit for his lefty-heavy lineup in the inning.

Off the bat, it seemed to be working when Junior Lake stepped in for catcher John Baker and reached on a single. Darwin Barney followed with another single to put men on first and second with nobody out. That’s when Renteria made the interesting decision to pull the recently activated Welington Castillo from the on-deck circle and allow Travis Wood to pinch hit for starter Jason Hammel with the intention of bunting.

Wood fell behind 0-2, but still managed to get a bunt down and advance the runners a base while giving the Pirates the first out of the inning.

“What we basically were trying to see was how the inning was going to develop,” Renteria said of pulling Castillo for Wood. “We ended up getting those first two guys on. Obviously I didn’t want to bunt Wely. I wanted to put Woody in there to put them over and then we could obviously put Wely in the Coghlan spot. If it had just been one guy on, I would have just hit Welington.”

Renteria confirmed that the thought process behind the bunt was to get the tying run on second base with less than two outs. While there is one school of thought that bunting is just handing the opposition an easy out while playing for one run instead of the big inning, Renteria stood by his move and explained his decision.

On a day with a strong wind coming in from left field and a team that was struggling to score just one on the day, Renteria was asked if his choice may have been different if the conditions had been more conducive to hitting.

"I'm trying to score some runs,” Renteria said. “I'm trying to get us in a position where we can potentially tie the ballgame. Whether the wind had been howling or not, I was trying us to give a situation where I saw that there was no one else throwing [in the bullpen]. The lefty was gonna stay in there and we ended up getting Welington and [Justin] Ruggiano both at-bats in key situations.”

Unfortunately for Renteria, Watson managed to get both Castillo and Ruggiano to strikeout and end the Cubs’ threat in the eighth without a runner crossing the plate.

Renteria was pleased that his team showed fight in the eighth and with another failed rally in the ninth against one of the stronger bullpens in baseball. However, Anthony Rizzo clearly would have preferred a victory.

"Well we had a couple opportunities, but we didn't get it done,” Rizzo said. “It's not a moral victory; we lost the game. Cumpton pitched a really good game for them and he shut us down."

Hammel also delivered another strong outing, giving up just two runs in seven strong innings, striking out six and walking just one. It was a good sign for Hammel, who had given up four runs in each of his previous two starts.

“[My slider is] coming back,” Hammel said. “The last two outings, previous to this one, I was leaving it up a lot. A couple today that stayed up that were hit in play, but majority were singles. But the command of the slider and the heater are coming back, so I feel pretty good about it.”

One of the sliders that Hammel did leave up was hit right back at him by Josh Harrison for an RBI single. The ball ricocheted off Hammel’s side, but after a visit from the trainer Hammel appeared fine and went on to retire the next nine batters he faced.

“It got me right in the meat of the butt,” Hammel said. “I’m very lucky I have a nice bum, so I’ll be good to go.”