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Contact issues continue to plague Lake

7/2/2014

BOSTON -- The strikeouts continue to pile up for Chicago Cubs outfielder Junior Lake as he failed to bring in a runner from third base twice in the Cubs' 2-1 victory over the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday night. Both times he struck out, giving him six in six at-bats against the Red Sox in the first two games of the series.

"It's frustrating," Lake said after Tuesday's game.

In the seventh inning Lake pinch hit for left-handed batter Nate Schierhotlz as the Red Sox brought in lefty pitcher Andrew Miller. The game was tied 1-1 with Starlin Castro on third and one out.

Lake struck out on three pitches.

"That's the anxiousness of a 24-year-old pinch-hitting in the big leagues," manager Rick Renteria said. "People have to understand it's usually reserved for guys like me when we were playing when we were 30 and 31 years old. It's not that he can't, but he's trying to do a lot of different things and trying to adjust his game while he's here at the major league level. I give him credit because he doesn't get down."

Lake is 1-for-14 (.071) with 11 strikeouts and two walks in pinch-hitting duty this season.

"I don't want to miss those pitches in that situation," Lake said.

But he has more often than not. In fact he's missed a lot of pitches this season. According to ESPN Stats and Information, Lake has the highest swing and miss rate (23.4) of any regular or semi-regular player in all of baseball. That's on all pitches he sees. When he does swing he's missed on 40.5 percent of balls. Overall, he's struck out in 34.8 percent of all his plate appearances. Again, that's the worst for all qualified hitters which Lake misses by a few at-bats.

Lake's Achilles' heel has been the low pitch. For the season, he's just 7-for-98 (.071) on pitches in the lower third of the strike zone or below.

"We just have to make Junior get the ball up in the zone," Renteria said before Tuesday's game. "Monday he had four strikeouts, a lot of them were balls down in the zone. It's a matter of staying positive with him."

Renteria dismissed any notion of sending Lake to the minors but that could change in a moment's notice. He's in the midst of an 0-for-15 skid that's helped bring his on-base percentage down to .257, third-worst in baseball. Lake was asked if the frustration of it all is getting to him.

"In the moment, yeah," he said. "But after the moment, I just have to keep working. In the moment yeah, it's not good."

Renteria said he didn't have a problem with a young player like Lake snapping a bat over his knee as he did after one strikeout on Monday. The bigger issue is simply getting him to make contact.

"Even from the bench we're telling him to slow it down a bit," Renteria said.

Luckily for Lake, strikeouts are more accepted in baseball now more than ever. His 87 strikeouts "only" ranks him 14th overall with three players in baseball already exceeding 100. But Lake's numbers need to move in the right direction or stranding runners will become the norm.

"When a pitcher makes a mistake, that's what I need," Lake said. "And I just need to keep working. I feel bad in the moment, but if I keep working it can get better."