Manager Dale Sveum has decided to hand third string catcher Steve Clevenger his first start at third base in his MLB career. It remains to be seen whether the Cubs manager is looking to add one more lefty bat against imposing Giants ace Matt Cain or if the slow starts from Alberto Gonzalez and Brent Lillibridge are creating an opportunity to mix things up a bit. The decision bumps Luis Valbuena to second base, the infielder’s preferred position.
Clevenger got an inning of experience yesterday afternoon, when he came in to play the hot corner after a pinch hit appearance. However reliever James Russell recorded all of the outs via strikeouts, so Clevenger did not get a chance to use his glove. The Cubs catcher also got one inning of third base play last season against Miami, but has yet to receive even a chance for a put out at the Major League level. He is sure to be tested today by getting the start. In my opinion he looked a little nervous when he took his defensive position in yesterday’s game, but Clevenger did originally come into the Cubs farm system as an infielder. It is a bit of irony since he made the transition to catcher after his first year in the minors, as the reason for doing so was a chance to make his way up to the Majors more quickly. He obviously has accomplished the goal of reaching the Majors, and now it is a matter of finding a role for him if he can the way he has during his minor league career.
Mean while, with Darwin Barney due back from the disabled list by early next week, how Clevenger handles himself at third base today may have an impact on whether either or both of Gonzalez or Lillibridge will be kept around the Cubs roster for much longer. One of the two will definitely have to go to make room for the Gold Glover winner’s return, but with Ian Stewart on pace to return from his injury by sometime in May, even the survivor past next week is in jeopardy of being sent down. Gonzalez has hit .200 with a .250 OBP so far in 15 at bats, while Lillibridge has been an embarrassing .050 batting average with an OBP to match. You know things are really not going well when your OBP fails to be any higher than your batting average. Both infielders have career OBP numbers below .280, so there is not a lot of hope to see too much improvement even if either of them start to warm up a bit at the plate.
My vote remains to keep Gonzalez around, but Lillibridge does provide Sveum with position flexibility, as the former White Sox is able to play some outfield as well. Sveum has seemingly not taken in on field performance into consideration when playing either of the two. After Lillibridge struggled out of the gate, he went with Gonzalez over the weekend before going back to Lillibridge against the Brewers. Number 20 finally got his first hit yesterday against the Giants, but against the tough righty Cain Sveum has opted to mix things up.
Here is hoping Clevenger can get it done, because Gonzalez and Lillibridge have not been close two weeks into the 2013 season.