CHICAGO – Cubs manager Dale Sveum’s confidence in his options at third base has helped produce, in his mind, one of the best combinations at that position in the majors.
Left-handed hitting Luis Valbuena and right-hander Cody Ransom are expected to remain as the Cubs’ platoon at third base based on their combined production. Together they have hit seven home runs while playing third base, which leads the league at that position.
“There’s nothing you need to change there,” Sveum said. “ … I know Valbuena has power. He has pull power and opposite field [power]. We saw it last year in certain stints.”
Through the first couple weeks of the season, it appeared Valbuena was only a placeholder until a healthy Ian Stewart was ready to take over third. However, after Stewart (left quad strain) was activated from the 15-day disabled list Friday, he was optioned to Triple-A Iowa. In 13 rehab games with Iowa, Stewart went 4 for 44 (.091) with 16 strikeouts and only one extra base hit.
Sveum plans to keep Valbuena’s bat in the lineup to take advantage of a lefty who can hit for power. Valbuena matched his career high Friday with three hits in the Cubs’ 6-5 loss to the Reds.
“That’s why getting [Valbuena] to play every day, we worked on a few things in spring training to have a little more pull power and think a little bit more about slugging,” Sveum said. “It’s been paying off and he’s been doing a good job.”
Patience displayed against Chapman: A late-game rally seemed unlikely when Reds closer Aroldis Chapman entered the ninth inning with the Reds holding a four-run lead.
While it wasn’t a save situation Friday, Chapman had put on a dominating performance this season, limiting opponents to one run in 131/3 innings with 21 strikeouts and three walks. Entering the game, Chapman owned a 0.68 ERA.
But the Cubs’ patience against the hard-throwing lefty helped them cut the Reds’ lead to one run. In two-thirds of an inning, the Cubs got four hits and three runs against Chapman, who also walked two hitters. However, Reds reliever J.J. Hoover struck out Darwin Barney with the bases loaded to end the game.
“You have to be patient against [Chapman] because he doesn’t throw a lot of strikes,” shortstop Starlin Castro said. “If you don’t take certain pitches, he will try to throw every pitch for a strike.”
Rehab assignements: Two rehab assignments have been scheduled in the coming days for reliever Kyuji Fujikawa and starting pitcher Matt Garza.
Fujikawa (right forearm strain) will pitch Sunday at Triple-A Iowa with a 25-pitch limit. Garza (lat strain) will make his second rehab start Monday at Iowa. Both outings are scheduled based on the expectation that the weather conditions will be OK. The Iowa Cubs’ game in Des Moines, Iowa, was postponed Friday because of snow.
Sveum reiterated this week that he plans to keep using a closer by committee system. Before Friday’s game, Fujikawa’s translator said the right hander isn’t sure what the Cubs’ plans were going forward, only that he was ready for whatever his rehab assignment would be.