Choosing sides: Schierholtz eyes full-time role
Cubs lefty-swinging outfielder is oddity who hits southpaws better than right-handers
MESA, Ariz. -- The numbers don't make sense. In 2009, Nate Schierholtz, a left-handed hitter, batted .370 against left-handed pitchers, and just .242 against right-handers. The next year, he batted .294 against lefties.
Aren't left-handed hitters supposed to struggle against southpaw pitchers?
"I played a lot back then," Schierholtz said Wednesday. "My first couple full seasons with the Giants, I actually almost platooned against left-handers, which is strange for a lefty. A lot of the time I would start only against lefties and swung the bat pretty well."
Cubs manager Rick Renteria remembers Schierholtz's odd stats from when he saw the outfielder in Giants games against the Padres.
"With my role there [with the Giants], I wasn't playing every day, so gradually it got back to facing mainly right-handers," said Schierholtz, who was put in more of a platoon situation last season, his first with the Cubs.
"Obviously, in a perfect world, I'd like to face anyone and everyone," he said. "I also think me just getting to play against righties last year was huge."
Renteria talks about matchups, and will most likely crunch the numbers to decide how he'll use Schierholtz and the other outfielders, right-handed-hitting Justin Ruggiano and Junior Lake and lefty Ryan Sweeney. Schierholtz has quietly stated his case for more full-time play.
"They know how I feel about it," Schierholtz said. "I understand matchups -- it seems like they're getting bigger in the game. You never know what can happen. I'm trying to stay positive about it and hopefully I can get some opportunities to show during the season that I can play every day."
In his first season with the Cubs, Schierholtz played a career-high 137 games, and produced. He set personal highs in home runs (21), doubles (32), RBIs (68) and at-bats (462). His previous at-bat high was 335 in 2011 with the Giants.
But Schierholtz also will be a free agent after this season, and he's seen what the Cubs have done with other veteran players in his situation at the Trade Deadline. There's a need for experienced left-handed-hitting outfielders. Schierholtz isn't monitoring the trade rumors.
"I love my teammates here, the fans are great, I love the city, and in a perfect world, I'd like to be here for a long time and be part of the future," he said. "Free agency, at the same time, is definitely another plus for any player. It's something I can't really control. All I can do is go out and play well and it takes care of itself."
He hasn't talked to Cubs management about his desire to stay.
"In this situation, it's up to them," Schierholtz said. "I think they know how I feel. I feel fortunate to be here, and I really enjoy it here."
He was able to adjust to the quirky schedule the Cubs have to deal with, switching from day games to night games, and sometimes having three different start times in three days.
"We're never really on a set schedule coming off the road, and having a lot of night games," he said. "For me, that's the adjustment your body has to make, and really was the biggest change. I've always enjoyed playing at Wrigley in front of the fans."
This spring, he reported healed from a sore shoulder that nagged him last season. Schierholtz is taking advantage of the Cubs' new facility in Mesa. If you need to find him, he's usually in the weight room.
"I have zero [physical] issues, zero problems," he said. "My body is healthy. I'm just trying to prepare myself for Opening Day."
Against a lefty? Schierholtz laughed.
"You never know what can happen," he said. "I love playing every day. It's what I did throughout my Minor League career, and hit a little speed bump when I got to the big leagues for a bit. I feel like I'm a young 30 and ready to play a lot for the rest of my career."
Schierholtz had spent his entire career with the Giants until he was included in a four-player deal with the Phillies for Hunter Pence. His time there didn't go well as he fractured his right big toe and was limited to 37 games. He signed with the Cubs as a free agent in December 2012.
When Schierholtz talked to the Cubs prior to the 2013 season, he was given assurances from president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer that he would play. He appreciates that.
"Everyone from Theo to Jed to Dale to the staff made me feel comfortable," he said, referring to former manager Dale Sveum. "They gave me the opportunity. They told me from Day 1 that they wanted me to hit fifth and play right, and that just lifted a big weight off my shoulders. I was always trying to make a team and always unsure of my future with the Giants. When I came here, they really just believed in me and that's all I needed from a team."
And that's all anyone can ask.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.