Learning on the job: Pie working hard

Learning on the job: Pie working

CHICAGO -- The Cubs took another step in the education of Felix Pie, calling up Minor League hitting coordinator Dave Keller on Monday to help tutor the outfielder.

Pie, 23, was to return to the starting lineup Monday against the New York Mets, but instead spent the day with Keller in the cage and watching video of his swing. Cubs manager Lou Piniella said Pie will likely start Tuesday.

"It's been an ongoing thing," Keller said of his lessons with Pie. "To me, it's nothing more than a progression of him learning about his swing."

Pie got an A-plus on Monday night with two outs in the eighth inning against the New York Mets, when he connected on a three-run homer, his first of the season. Pie now is batting .172 and is expected to get his first start since April 15 on Tuesday. He hit .362 at Triple-A Iowa last season and has a career Minor League average of .301. But he hasn't been able to duplicate that in the big leagues. Keller said it just shows how hard it is to play at the Major League level.

"The most important thing he understands is that the changes he's trying to make, he can feel it when it's right," Keller said. "He can feel it when it's going in the right direction and can repeat it for five, six, seven swings. Then it's a case of getting at-bats, and all the thought process leaves."

The Cubs are videotaping Pie's hitting sessions so he can see it and, hopefully, get a feel for what he has to do.

"Does that mean he'll go 4-for-4, or 4-for-5? No," Keller said. "Pitching is the equalizer."

Pie has been receptive, and Keller said the outfielder's "work habits are off the chart."

"He's happy, he's really happy," Keller said. "The best thing about Felix is he'll work. He'll try as hard as he can, and he listens. He knows how close he is, and he wants to compete here. Sometimes you run into guys who make excuses as to why they can't do it, and that's not Felix at all."

But wouldn't Pie be better served if he were playing every day in the Minor Leagues?

"That's a great question, but I can't answer that," Keller said. "As a coach and a teacher and a guy in player development, I wish I could send as many players up here as possible. That's all we want to do is try to get our players to the big leagues and get our players to succeed.

"Felix is not a prospect anymore. He's got to find a way to survive and put it all together."

Piniella understands it's tough to learn on the job.

"We understand this is not an easy thing," Piniella said. "You have to do it somewhere, and [Pie] is here with us now, and we'll work with him and continue to work with him and hope it catches on. We're not getting too drastic with the changes. We're trying to stay as elementary as possible. We're trying to get his weight shift a little more and get off his backside so he can have a better pass at the ball, stay in the strike zone longer and get to more pitches."

What has helped is that both Keller and Piniella, who got involved in Pie's lessons last week, are bilingual and can explain what they want the outfielder to do in Spanish. Now, they just have to figure out how to turn that light on for Pie to be successful.

"He helps us with the glove, no question," Piniella said. "He can go get the ball. He has a real nice throwing arm. He's got a lot of energy on the field. There's a lot of positives. We're trying to smooth his approach at home plate. If we can get that done, I think you'll see more discipline, more swinging at strikes and a better approach."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.