MIAMI – He was the forgotten man heading into spring training but Junior Lake has risen from the baseball graveyard to fortify a role with the Chicago Cubs. And it could get bigger if outfielder Jorge Soler's ankle injury is deemed serious.
"I'm not excited because my guy got hurt," Lake said after going 2-for-4 with two doubles on Tuesday night against the Miami Marlins. "I don't feel good because that happened but if they give me an opportunity I'll play hard."
Lake is hitting .257 in limited at-bats this season after starting the year at Triple-A Iowa. Last year he was a strikeout machine totaling 110 in just 326 plate appearances. That was before Joe Maddon came to town. The new manager hasn't seen Lake like everyone else did last year. He's a different hitter - -and has been since spring training.
"He's getting good at-bats, striking the ball hard," Maddon said. "He's playing good outfield. He's running the bases well. He plays a pretty complete game. I think he's a little bit under the radar right now."
It's true, Lake does have a skill set that not many players can claim their own. But when he struck out as much as he did last year it made him an ordinary player. Seeing him on the base paths again is a reminder of how good an athlete he is. We should see it more as he makes more contact.
"Just working on my swing," he said. "I'm trying not to think to pull the ball when the pitch is middle away. I'm working on it."
His first double was hit down the right field line while his second one went to left center. Maddon didn't deny Lake's role could increase if Soler is out for an extended period of time. He had an MRI on Tuesday night so the Cubs should know by Wednesday if a disabled list stint is in order. Either way, Lake could see action in right field for a few days at the very least.
"Working every day, very hard," Lake said. "I'm just getting better and better every day."
Everyone loves a comeback story. Could Junior Lake be it for the Cubs this season? We might get a chance to find out.