PITTSBURGH — The question initially caught Mike Olt off guard last week, like a changeup, but the Cubs third baseman caught up quickly.
“What kind of hitter do you think you’ll be?” Olt was asked after winning a spot on the opening-day roster. “Are you all power or nothing?”
“No, no,” Olt responded.
Starting Monday against formidable left-hander Francisco Liriano in the season opener at PNC Park, the Cubs must prove they’re more than a solo home run-hitting machine to make inroads in the National League Central.
If Olt, acquired in July from the Rangers in the Matt Garza trade, stays healthy, he can strengthen an offense that was second in the league last season with 172 home runs. But the Cubs ranked 14th in the NL in runs scored, primarily because their .300 on-base percentage ranked 14th.
The inability to maximize the home runs wasn’t lost on general manager Jed Hoyer, who witnessed similar results this spring.
“You really shouldn’t have a high slugging percentage and low on-base percentage,” Hoyer said. “That equals to not enough runs. That’s something we have to keep getting better at, and it’s something we talked about as we built the roster.”
The need for more batters who can reach base with more frequency was one reason left-handed-hitting outfielder Ryan Kalish earned a spot on the 25-man roster as a non-roster invitee. Although Kalish is unlikely to start Monday against Liriano, he could create a spark because of his pesky approach at the plate (.385 on-base percentage this spring) and speed (six stolen bases).
“He does work counts, and he gets on base,” Hoyer said. “We need more guys like that. That’s something we’re working on. It’s obviously not something we’ve conquered yet.”
There have been some small signs of improvement, but they’ll have to continue working deep counts with regularity to build the pitch counts of starters like Liriano, who recently coped with a sore left groin.
Newcomers like Emilio Bonifacio and Olt hope to contribute to the Cubs with more than just their speed and power.
“My approach has gotten so much better,” Olt said. “That’s going to make me a better hitter. I’m not going to be a .250 hitter. I definitely think I can get anywhere from .300 to .275, but I want to make sure I’m getting on base and getting my walks and know the situation.
“If they’re going to work around guys, that’s something I haven’t learned in the past. I still went up there aggressive. Now I’m going to understand and make sure I’m getting on base any way I can.”
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