Monday, April 14, 2014
Renteria's style proving to be unpredictable
By Jesse Rogers
After two weeks on the job, Chicago Cubs manager Rick Renteria might best be described by one word: unpredictable.
Maybe he realizes he doesn't exactly have a roster full of All-Stars or maybe this is how he's always going to be as a manager. But either way, trying to guess a lineup or strategy move of his isn't the easiest of tasks.
Rick Renteria hasn't shied away from some unconventional decisions in his first two weeks as Cubs manager.
He has bunted in unusual moments, called hit and runs when least expected and hasn't used the same lineup twice. In fact, only two players -- Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro -- have started every game. The result is a 4-8 record as the Cubs take an off day in New York before beginning a series with the Yankees on Tuesday.
This past weekend in St. Louis some of his unconventional thinking was on display. On Friday, after the Cubs tied the score 1-1 in the seventh and put runners on first and second with none out, Renteria called for a hit and run as Nate Schierholtz took off for third and Castro swung and missed at a pitch. Schierholtz was easily thrown out and the inning ended soon after.
"Here is a guy [Castro] who had been swinging the bat really well," Renteria said after the game. "You would think I might bunt him there ... Starlin hits a lot of ground balls. My hope was at the bare minimum he puts the ball in play and we have men at second and third and I'm back to the same situation."
It's unconventional as much for what Renteria said just there as anything. Castro was hot, plus the Cubs had just reached with three straight batters, and with a slower runner in Schierholtz trying to make it to third, Castro almost had to hit a ground ball or get a base hit for a good outcome. And pitcher Carlos Martinez had gotten 32 percent of hitters to swing and miss at him so far, well above the league average, according to ESPN Stats &samp; Information. In fact, Renteria said he's done the same move in the past and hit into a line-drive triple play. But he did it anyway.
Then there's the bunting. The Cubs are at the top of the league in sacrifice bunts with seven and that doesn't include the unsuccessful tries such as later in Friday's game. It was the top of the 11th in a 3-3 game and after already bunting Ryan Sweeney successfully to get Schierhlotz to third, Renteria had lefty Ryan Kalish attempt a safety squeeze with one out. Kalish was so taken aback by the sign he wasn't focused enough on the execution.
"I put all thought of anything besides I need to hit out of my head when I finally got [the sign] I didn't execute," Kalish said after the game. "My goal was to bunt it down to first base. They had to get my attention."
Schierholtz was as surprised as anyone. (By the way, does Renteria think Schierholtz is faster than we think?) With the great Yadier Molina behind the plate and a lefty up, he didn't exactly have a great lead and so a perfect bunt was needed. Kalish popped out but luckily catcher Welington Castillo followed with a homer to help win the game.
"Believe me I sit there thinking, 'Guys, I'm thinking outside the box here and here are all the things going through my mind and why,'" Renteria said.
So he knows it isn't the norm to call some of these plays, yet Renteria is willing to try. That part of his managerial style might be a work in progress but some of the other results so far give credence to his abilities as a communicator.
Rizzo and Castro are off to good starts, so whatever buttons he's pushing are working there. And as Renteria preached "good approaches" at the plate during spring training, and the first week of the regular season, the offense sputtered. He stayed the course -- and for better or worse -- stayed with his platoon lineups. The result was seven straight games last week of scoring four runs or more. The last time the Cubs did that was late May of last season. In that span they went 5-2. This time it translated into a 3-4 record and they have dropped two of three in every series so far.
"If we keep pushing, at some point it has to turn," Renteria said after Sunday's 6-4 loss to the Cardinals. "If we were playing really bad baseball I'd go, 'Gosh, I'd be really concerned.' But the reality is they're showing a lot of fight."
Renteria's defense of his players also fits with people's descriptions of him before he took the job. He has gone to bat for the struggling Edwin Jackson as well as Jose Veras, though he didn't remain stubborn after initially saying Veras was still the closer. He backed Veras up Saturday to reporters after a blown save then talked to him Sunday and announced a change. There's nothing wrong with that.
Analyzing Cubs managers is a rite of spring -- and summer, fall and winter as well. With just a few short weeks on the job, Renteria is already leaving an impression. Is it the start of something special or is he too optimistic and unconventional for the gig in the Cubs dugout? Time will tell, but it has been an interesting start to his managerial career.