When the Chicago Cubs hired Rick Renteria to be the team’s manager, the book on him was that he was a guy that was going to maintain a positive attitude even in the face of adversity, and would mentor the younger players on the roster and to help them to rebound after a largely disappointing 2013 season.
In the first three games of his tenure with the team, however, Renteria has also begun to develop another reputation, which is that he has a tendency to overmanage at times.
Sure, there are times when this strategy is paying off beautifully. In Wednesday’s game against the Pirates, Renteria yanked Edwin Jackson out of the game in the sixth inning, and replaced him with James Russell. The move did pay off, as the lefty struck out Pedro Alvarez (who has struggled mightily against lefties in his career) and then retired Neil Walker, who is a much less dangerous hitter from the right side of the plate.
The reason the move was so questionable was that it left Wesley Wright in the game as the only lefty available in the Cubs’ bullpen, and the decision to use Russell in the sixth inning proved to be a fateful one as the game would go on for another ten innings before ending in the bottom of the 16th on a Tony Sanchez single to left off of Carlos Villanueva (who has the distinction of being the losing pitcher in each of the Cubs’ two losses).
Renteria’s quick trigger finger with his pitchers wasn’t limited to just pulling Jackson on Wednesday. He also pulled Jeff Samardzija short of the 100 pitch mark on Monday as the Cubs fell 1-0 in extra innings to the Pirates, and the quick hook was on display again Thursday as he pulled Jason Hammel from the game, despite the fact that he was short several bullpen arms because of the lengthy game the night before.
Some pundits and fans could accuse Renteria of over-managing with some of his defensive alignments during the season’s opening series, but his penchant for unconventional strategies did pay some dividends in Wednesday’s game. With the bases loaded and nobody out in the bottom of the 13th inning, Renteria opted for a five-man infield against Clint Barmes, pulling outfielder Junior Lake in from left field to play the third base position.
The plan ended up working to perfection, as Barmes smashed a one-hopper right at Lake, who then turned a completely unconventional 7-2-3 double play as a result. Wright got the final out of the inning, but the decision to go with five infielders, while risky on its surface because of the possibility of Barmes still being able to get a sacrifice fly even on a shallow fly ball down one of the foul lines, was a pretty smart move whether looking through the prism of hindsight or in the heat of the moment.
Needless to say, Renteria has already turned some heads with his strategizing early on in the season, and we’ve likely only seen him begin to scratch the surface when it comes to turning conventional wisdom on its head. Renteria has been waiting a long time to manage a major league team, and now that he has the reins of the Cubs, he seems intent on directing the horse in new and unique directions.