- Jesse Rogers, ESPN Staff Writer
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CHICAGO – One day after hitting two home runs to help the Chicago Cubs to victory in Colorado, second baseman Javier Baez struck out four times in his Wrigley Field debut as the Cubs lost 4-3 to the Tampa Bay Rays in 10 innings Friday.
This is the Baez -- along with the long home runs -- fans will have to get used to, at least for the near future.
“I was swinging at bad pitches,” Baez said after the game. “They didn’t throw many pitches over the plate.”
Baez singled and scored in the first, but then struck out four consecutive times, including in the eighth inning with the tying run on second and none out, and again in the 10th with the Cubs trailing 4-3.
“It’s going to be a process that he gains experience from,” manager Rick Renteria said. “He has to trust his skill. It’s easier to take someone that’s aggressive and tone them down than try to get someone to be more aggressive that’s passive. He’ll be fine.”
No one should be criticizing Baez for his strikeouts. They’re going to happen, particularly early in his career. But his eighth-inning at-bat is the one of concern. As the Cubs turn themselves into winners, they’ll need winning approaches at the plate when situational hitting is called for. With Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro coming up behind him, Baez needs to get the runner over to third. He struck out on six pitches.
“To be honest with you, I don’t want to take the bat out of his hands, either,” Renteria said of that Baez plate appearance. “I don’t want to limit what he’s going to do with the bat.”
Renteria talked of the flair that a player like Baez can bring to the park. The mammoth home runs will be there, but every member of a winning team has that responsibility to do the little things.
“The ability to leave the ballpark from any part of the strike zone to any part of the park in any count in any situation,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said before the game. “That’s something that’s a subtext of every at-bat. It keeps pitchers honest, but Javy still has to think his way through an at-bat and find a pitch he can drive.
“We don’t want to take his aggression away from him. He swings hard and that creates the ability to leave the yard and change the game. That’s something that we like.”
But Epstein would undoubtedly agree that a balance has to be found. It wasn't a strong suit for Baez in the minors, and it showed up in that eighth inning at-bat. To be fair, many a player has struck out trying to get a runner over, but not many have done it with such massive swings.
“I was just trying to hit the ball and make contact and see what happens,” Baez said.
When he makes contact, the ball is going to fly off his bat, but with seven strikeouts in four games it’s going to be a work in progress. After the fact, Baez said he realized he didn’t get many pitches to hit. A few walks will have to come with the big swings, too. Either way, fans appreciated seeing him at Wrigley Field for the first time.
“He got to the plate and got a roaring ovation,” Renteria said. “We’re glad.”
And one day after some big results, the Cubs' latest prodigy had a rough afternoon. He’s not the first, but he’s one of the more talented -- which could pay off with needed experience.
“I just have to be patient,” Baez said. “Tomorrow is another day.”