Valbuena steps in, now entrenched at hot corner

Valbuena steps in, now entrenched at hot corner

CHICAGO -- The Cubs projected Ian Stewart as their starting third baseman, but Luis Valbuena has taken control of the spot.

"I would never have any problem playing him every day, because his at-bats against left-handers are pure and he sees pitches and doesn't swing out of the zone against left-handed pitching," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "He's obviously an everyday player. He's one of the most productive third basemen in the game right now."

Valbuena ranks fourth among National League third basemen, batting .271 heading into Tuesday's game, and trailed only the Reds' Todd Frazier in home runs. The Giants' Pablo Sandoval leads all NL third basemen in RBIs.

What Sveum likes is that Valbuena, a left-handed hitter, gives a quality at-bat. He stayed busy over the winter, playing in Venezuela.

"Those kind of experiences help anybody," Sveum said. "I don't think guys do enough of that any more. A lot of people say they're tired and don't want to play winter ball or instructional league. The more baseball you can play as a younger player, the better you're going to be. That's just like the walk of life."

Valbuena tied his career high with three hits Friday and Monday. He hit four home runs in 265 at-bats last season, and already has hit five this season.

Stewart missed all of Spring Training because of a strained left quad suffered in the first intrasquad game, and he was optioned to Triple-A Iowa on Saturday.

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.