For experienced players like Emilio Bonifacio and Starlin Castro, there are no concerns about their confidence because of their recent performance.
But before Mike Olt and Junior Lake hit consecutive home runs to vault the Cubs to a 7-5 victory over the Pirates, manager Rick Renteria expressed some concern that his early decision to employ a platoon system at several positions could affect the confidence of his younger players.
Olt and Lake each made cases for more playing time Wednesday night with their timely homers that snapped a 1-1 tie with two out in the fifth inning to support the three-hit pitching of Jason Hammel.
This marked the fourth start of the season for Olt, who has split time at third with Luis Valbuena. Coincidentally, two of Olt’s starts have occurred against left-hander Wandy Rodriguez, and Olt’s first two hits of the season were off Rodriguez — both home runs.
Olt’s towering homer, which landed in the basket above the left field wall, came after Anthony Rizzo battled from an 0-2 count to single off Rodriguez. Rizzo’s batting .388 (7-for-18) against left-handers after batting .189 against them last season. Rizzo tied a career high with four hits.
Olt added an RBI single off reliever Jeanmar Gomez in the sixth.
Renteria said he and his coaches are aware of the importance of reinforcing their faith in the youngsters.
“That’s why we try to make sure we have conversations with them every day and make sure they’re light-hearted and loose and make sure they know we believe in them and make sure they know they’ll be getting in the ballgames.
“And when they do, be ready to perform.”
Olt worked out at at third base five hours before Wednesday’s game.
“I’m definitely trying to do a little extra to make sure I’m fresh and I’m ready for whatever situation I’m put in,” Olt said. “That’s just the way I am. I’m a guy who needs a lot of reps before the game, just to get going.”
The offense provided Hammel (2-0) with plenty of cushion. Hammel retired the first 12 batters before allowing a homer to Pedro Alvarez in the fifth and then two more in the seventh to Travis Snider and Russell Martin. Alvarez and Martin also homered in the ninth of Pedro Strop.
Bonifacio increased his hit total to 19 with a double and a single and scored twice, and Castro and Darwin Barney made two exceptional plays up the middle to take away hits from Starling Marte in the fourth and Jordy Mercer in the sixth.