Navarro proving to be invaluable in backup role
Veteran catcher has produced big hits while also mentoring Castillo
CHICAGO -- Dioner Navarro has proven to be a valuable backup catcher for the Cubs, embracing that role and having one of the best offensive seasons of his career.
Navarro -- who hit a game-tying home run in Friday's 9-5 loss to the Braves and a go-ahead single in Saturday's 3-1 victory over Atlanta -- entered Sunday's series finale batting .299 with a career-high 13 home runs, as well as 33 RBIs in 224 at-bats.
"What he's done, and the big hits and the home runs in a small sample is about as good as you get from that position," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said.
While Welington Castillo -- who is out for the remainder of the season with a partial meniscus tear in his right knee -- is expected to be the starting catcher next season, Sveum said that Navarro's ability to understand his role and be productive is a big asset.
"Welington's put himself in a position to catch more games next year, so the sample [for Navarro] will be a lot smaller, but you have to have depth in case something happens," Sveum said. "… Always the biggest thing with any role player is to always understand this is what it is, and you have to enjoy that as much as an everyday player enjoys being an everyday player."
Sveum also said that it's been helpful to have a switch-hitting backup catcher he could slot into the cleanup spot.
"Obviously [with Alfonso] Soriano gone, to have [Navarro] hit fourth, I think that gives the other manager a tough [time] to have to bring in a left-handed pitcher to face [Anthony] Rizzo or just be one time, as well has having a guy that can swing the bat from both sides of the plate. So it's been very valuable in the lineup to be able to hit him fourth."
Navarro has also mentored the younger Castillo.
"He's done a great job with Welly," Sveum said. "It's nice to have people that know that's their role and when they're called upon they do the best they can."
Sveum expects Lake to play winter ball
CHICAGO -- Junior Lake has done well in his first two months at the big league level, but Cubs manager Dale Sveum said the outfielder is still learning and will probably play winter ball to get more experience in the outfield after playing primarily as an infielder in the Minor Leagues.
Lake entered Sunday's series finale with the Braves hitting .305 in 220 at-bats. His 67 hits since the All-Star break led all Major League rookies. Sveum said Lake has shown he can hit in the Majors, but is learning how to make his own adjustments when opposing pitchers change their approach against him.
"Not being so aggressive at the plate, cutting down on two strikes, and the willingness to drive the ball up the middle and hit the outfield grass with men in scoring position [are some things he needs to work on]," Sveum said.
"Obviously, he's hitting .300 in the big leagues and doing some good things at the plate and learning in the same process that these guys can pitch to a scouting report, and how [to] change and adjust to what they're doing. All those things start happening in the big leagues."
Defensively, Sveum said there's no substitute for practice in the outfield for the rookie.
"[Lake's] learning process is still going on for the outfield," Sveum said. "He just needs a lot more reps, whether it's winter ball and then Spring Training and all that to just see balls off the bat. You can take all the fungos and all that stuff you want. In the outfield it's just not the same as fly balls off the bat.
"I'm not positive, but I'm sure he'll play [winter ball]. He needs to get a lot more reps in the outfield."
In second-half slump, Rizzo has manager's backing
CHICAGO -- Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo has struggled in the second half of the season, entering Sunday's series finale against the Braves hitting .216 since the All-Star break with 23 RBIs after posting a .241 average in the first half with 54 RBIs.
Manager Dale Sveum said that while Rizzo has had his ups and downs, he's done well for a young player in the big leagues. He entered Sunday hitting .231 with 38 doubles, 22 home runs and 77 RBIs.
"It's his first time ever playing every single day in the big leagues," Sveum said. "It's his first time with the pressure of hitting third every single day, for the most part anyway. With 22 homers and 75, possibly 80 RBIs for a second-year player, that isn't the end of the world. … We've put him in a tough situation, being a young player."
Sveum said Rizzo will be able to learn from his highs and lows, having experienced the pressure of being an everyday player depended upon for run production at a young age.
"I think the learning process of that is out of the way, too," Sveum said. "We forget that everybody's going to have their bad year or whatever, and you get through it, especially at a young age, and you think, 'Wow, I've been there before. I know how to get out of it. I understand the process,' and so on and so forth. So you analyze the year and it's not as bad as everybody makes it out to be."
• Entering Sunday, the Cubs had 87 quality starts, tied for fifth-most in the National League behind the Braves (95), Reds (92), Dodgers (90), and Phillies (88). Chicago had 73 in 2012.
•Edwin Jackson made his 30th start Sunday against the Braves, marking the seventh consecutive season in which the right-hander has made at least 30 starts.
He became the fifth pitcher in the Majors with 30 starts in seven straight seasons, along with Cincinnati's Bronson Arroyo, Toronto's Mark Buehrle, Tampa Bay's James Shields and Detroit's Justin Verlander.
• According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Saturday's 3-1 Cubs victory over the Braves was the first nine-inning game at Wrigley Field in more than a year in which Chicago came back to win after trailing in the eighth. The last such win was Aug. 30, 2012, a 12-11 victory over the Brewers.
Manny Randhawa is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.