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Friday, April 4, 2014
Olt and Lake sit while Cubs lose

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO -- There are many Chicago Cubs fans who are on board with the rebuilding plan the team has undergone. They will sit through cold-weather days and poorly played losses -- like the 7-2 defeat to the Philadelphia Phillies in the home opener on Friday afternoon -- and they will listen to Cubs brass explain over and over why their top prospects must advance slowly through the system.

But what few will understand -- outside of Wrigley Field -- is why when those prospects arrive they aren't playing every day.

Rick Renteria
Cubs manager Rick Renteria says his plan is "to keep everyone fresh and in tune as much as I possibly can."
President Theo Epstein wants people to enjoy the journey of their young players, but if they aren't in the lineup, how can they?

Four games into the season or not, this is the home opener for the Party of the Century. Right-hander Roberto Hernandez is on the mound, not Roger Clemens in his prime. Possible core players Mike Olt and Junior Lake were on the bench in favor of Luis Valbuena and Ryan Sweeney. That's two starts in four games for Lake and Olt.

Why?

"We're still trying to protect Olt," manager Rick Renteria said before the game. "It's a little moist out there. We're trying to do everything we can to transition him in and see how it goes. I think it's going well. He had a nice game for us yesterday."

Olt hit his first major league home run in helping the Cubs to a 3-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Thursday, but that didn't earn him another start, and Lake was on the bench with him. Presumably, Renteria was referring to Olt's shoulder when he said they were taking it easy on him. If that's the case, why is Starlin Castro playing in "slick" conditions? He's coming off a hamstring injury. And Olt says his shoulder is fine anyway.

"And we have a lot of guys playing in the game today that we've been using over the course of the last three days," Renteria said. "My idea is to keep everyone fresh and in tune as much as I possibly can."

That should not be Renteria's idea or job.

No offense, but no one cares if Sweeney and Valbuena aren't as fresh as Renteria would like. If there is going to be losing -- and there will be -- then the Cubs need to get something out of every loss. Every day that Lake and Olt don't play is a day less of experience for them. It's a day slower in the rebuilding process. If the Cubs won't rush anyone up from the minors, can they at least play the ones who are here, especially on Opening Day? Show off the work you've done in rebuilding so far with this team. Show us the faces of the future. It's not as if you're going to do them harm. They're not fatigued.

"All in all, we didn't have a good plan of attack, and it cost us," Renteria said about his offense after the loss.

You can live with that if the Cubs' core players are learning from days like Friday. But when they sit and you still lose, no good comes from it.

"It's the fourth game of the season and, quite frankly, I wouldn't panic anyway," Renteria said. "We're going to continue to work and get better."

The other side of keeping everyone fresh is allowing no one to get into a groove. Hitters are creatures of habit, and Olt, in particular, could use the routine considering how off he was last season because of his vision problems. Renteria was asked how a player is supposed to get hot when he's sitting.

"I think when you put them in the best possible position to face the guys that they face, it curtails that a bit," he said.

In other words, the right matchup offsets not playing every day.

So does this mean Renteria is planning on platoons all over the field, or is this just his feeling-out process until Olt and Lake take every-day jobs? After all, Emilio Bonifacio hasn't come out of the lineup for obvious reasons. Are those the streaks others have to go on to play every day?

The Party of the Century won't be much fun with another near 100-loss season -- the Cubs are already on pace -- but losing games while core guys gain experience could make it worth it.

But they have to play.

Now.