Cubs' Soler to adjust 'mental mechanics' at leadoff

Cubs' Soler to adjust 'mental mechanics' at leadoff

CHICAGO -- For the first time this season, Jorge Soler was moved into the Cubs' leadoff spot. It's part of manager Joe Maddon's effort to get the rookie outfielder to adjust the mental part of his game and try to get back on track.

Soler, who has primarily hit second or third, was batting .171 (6-for-35) in his last nine games with 19 strikeouts in that stretch.

"It's just to have them think differently," said Maddon, who made the move in Spring Training with Javier Baez. "It's not about changing mechanics or trying new things, but just to think differently. I'm all about when a hitter is not going as he can, the last thing you want to do is change the physical mechanics. You want to change the mental mechanics first."

The move is temporary -- the Cubs do like Dexter Fowler in the leadoff spot -- but Maddon hopes that it helps Soler, who has two home runs, both coming April 13.

"He sees his name in the leadoff spot, he has a different vibe about him," Maddon said. "The whole job I want to get across to him is, 'You're out there to score runs. Don't worry about homers, don't worry about hits. You're out there to score runs.'"

Anthony Rizzo was hit by a pitch on Friday, the eighth time this season he's been plunked. Since 1914, just two players have been hit more in the first 21 games: Shin-Soo Choo was hit in nine of his first 21 in 2013 and Chase Utley was plunked eight of his first 21 games in 2007.

"Rizzo just stands on the plate and dares them," Maddon said. "And he doesn't wear any body armor. I don't think anybody's thrown at us intentionally at this point. It's part of the game."

• On Friday, Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred met with the Cubs' players, and among the topics were changes to speed up the pace of the game.

"The thing about pace of game, it's kind of one-sided," Maddon said. "It's about the hitter in the box, and the pitcher can take all the time he wants. my biggest concern is some pitchers take so long, that's what gets your defense on its heels."

Jon Lester picked up his first win Friday, and Maddon said the left-hander is already looking ahead to his next start.

"He probably had a beer or two, thought about it, and said, 'I'm happy,'" Maddon said. "But then as soon as he got over that moment, he's thinking about the next team he has to pitch against and how he has to do better. That's the kind of guy you're looking for."

Lester's next start will be Wednesday against the Cardinals.

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.