PITTSBURGH -- With the amateur draft completed, the presence of an Orioles scout here to watch Jason Hammel and Jeff Samardzija pitch on consecutive nights stoked anticipation of the Cubs' future with the July 31 trade deadline approaching.
But there are some urgent matters to resolve beforehand, such as maintaining the faith of struggling rookie third baseman Mike Olt as Luis Valbuena continues his torrid hitting.
Olt was limited to a pinch-hitting role Wednesday night hitting for Hammel, who allowed a season-high 11 hits over five innings in a 4-2 loss to the Pirates. The start of the game was delayed 1 hour, 43 minutes because of rain.
"It's amazing they put up only four (runs)," Hammel said.
Hammel had his streaks of 14 scoreless innings and 512/3 without allowing a home run end in the first when Andrew McCutchen hit a two-run blast that grazed off the outstretched glove of Chris Coghlan and over the left-field fence.
"I could have caught it, but a guy got in the way," Coghlan said of a fan sitting a few rows behind the wall who attempted to catch the ball.
Olt, meanwhile, is in an 0-for-19 slump after his flyout to the warning track in center dropped his average to .150.
Valbuena went 3-for-4, and his recent hot hitting has raised his average to .287 with a .394 on-base percentage.
Manager Rick Renteria is trying to find the most favorable matchups for Olt while not taking away at-bats from Valbuena, who is hitting .383 over his last 22 games.
Renteria stopped short of saying he's concerned Olt could fall into a "mental abyss," as one reporter asked.
"If you're losing confidence, you can overcome that," Renteria said. "Is there a moment in which you maybe (think) we have to make an adjustment? Sure.
"But that's not where we're at right now with him. What we're trying to do is make sure we focus on (helping to) put him in a better position to get out of (his slump)."
Meanwhile, Valbuena's recent production and ability to play defense adequately has earned him more playing time.
"He has been a guy who has balanced out our lineup, whether we've used him at second or third," Renteria said.
Valbuena said he has become a more selective hitter with the help of former Cubs slugger Alfonso Soriano and fellow Venezuelans Cesar Izturis and Victor Martinez.
"I just want to see my name in the lineup," Valbuena said. "... Wherever (Renteria) wants, I'll be ready for it."
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