CHICAGO -- It will sound a little odd, but Cubs manager Joe Maddon told Javier Baez to strike out as much as he needs to. Maddon is hoping that doing so will get Baez back on track offensively.
Baez entered Wednesday's game against the Phillies averaging 3.52 plate appearances per strikeout; which is better than his first season in the big leagues in 2014, when that number was 2.41. Baez has not struck out in his last two starts, which is a good sign. He's also hit home runs in both of those games.
"I still want to see him accept a couple walks, I still want him to not expand his strike zone -- that's the next level," Maddon said Wednesday. "'OK, you're not hitting right now. You look up and there's a bad number.' It's hard to convince a young player to accept your walks to get that number to be better. They just want to get hits, which makes them swing at more bad pitches."
But Maddon has seen a difference in Baez, especially after he collected four hits on Tuesday in an 8-3 win over the Phillies. Baez was the co-Most Valuable Player in the National League Championship Series, and batted .273 last season. How much better can he get?
"I don't think it will be revealed to us for another couple years," Maddon said. "I think it's very high, absolutely. You're still going to see him go through the moments, up and down. The difference with him is he can still help you win with his defense and baserunning. The reward is going to be great."
Maddon said Baez is "learning on the fly at the Major League level," which comes with a lot of scrutiny. The manager preached patience.
"I even told him, 'Go and strike out as often as you need to,'" Maddon said. "I want to see him play with that focus and passion. I totally expect him to strike out, and I totally expect him to swing at balls in the dirt and over his head. I believe it will go away. The only way it's going to go away is if he keeps getting a chance to do that."
• Maddon and the front office were discussing inserting a sixth starter into the rotation, but have tabled that option for now.
"Everything's the same," Maddon said Wednesday. "Nothing has changed."
Last year, the Cubs' starters led the National League in ERA, but they were ranked 12th with a 4.66 ERA entering Wednesday's game. The only new starter this season is lefty Brett Anderson. The other four starters -- Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, John Lackey and Jake Arrieta -- have two quality starts each.
"Our guys are good, they're well, they're going to continue to pitch better, so for us to be in the position we're in now while they're not at the top of their game, I like that," Maddon said.
• Apparently the new bullpens under the bleachers were too quiet, so they have changed the doors to allow for more crowd noise. Bullpen coach Lester Strode made the suggestion.
"He thought it needed to be louder and have more crowd noise to get the guys acclimated," Maddon said.
• Anthony Rizzo's cereal, "Rizzos," now are packaged in a championship edition 14-ounce collector's box, featuring the first baseman on the cover.
It's the same honey-nut toasted oat cereal that Rizzo promoted last year. Proceeds from the sale of the cereal benefit the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation.
Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.