La Stella embracing role, proving valuable

Infielder works hard to stay sharp, enjoys challenge of pinch-hitting

La Stella embracing role, proving valuable

PITTSBURGH -- Cubs bench player Tommy La Stella has proven to be a valuable piece as the Cubs have streaked out to the lead in the National League Central.

La Stella, 27, who came to the Cubs from the Braves before the 2015 season, works hard to keep sharp in his reserve role.

"It's a difficult role," La Stella said. "But it's like anything, the more you do it, the more you get used to it. You get kind of a routine, I think that was the biggest thing for me, kind of just getting a routine down and getting ready for playing or a pinch-hit role."

Including Wednesday's series finale vs. the Pirates, La Stella has started eight games this season (six at third base, two at second base). He went 6-for-9 with three walks in five games from April 22-29 before going 0-for-8 in his next two games.

Last season, La Stella was the club's best pinch-hitter, going 6-for-14 for a .429 average. He embraces the challenge of coming off the bench to pinch-hit.

"It starts with being open-minded to the idea that's it's not about me, it's about the team," La Stella said. "Not only is it tolerable, but you look forward to the opportunities. I think you kind of keep yourself perpetually loose because you don't know when that time is coming, and you want to be ready to go whenever that time does come."

La Stella also works hard on staying sharp defensively at both third and second base.

"I think it all starts in batting practice," La Stella said. "Making sure I'm taking the reps at both second and third and just kind of working around at all the infield positions, really."

Cubs manager Joe Maddon appreciates what La Stella brings to the table.

"Some guys are clamoring to be a star, and a player can be annoyed when he doesn't get that opportunity," Maddon said. "He's never annoyed."

George Von Benko is a contributor to MLB.com based in Pittsburgh. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.