Josh Vitters was in the on-deck circle Sunday, getting ready to pinch hit. But that's as close as he got, as the Cubs' 3-0 loss to the Reds ended before Vitters could get to the plate.
The rookie third baseman has started only three of the eight games since his call-up from Class AAA Iowa. He has pinch hit in three games and not played at all in two others.
Cubs manager Dale Sveum said that will begin to change, beginning with Monday night's series opener against the Astros at Wrigley Field.
"I think after today, he'll probably play maybe all three games against Houston and then see after that," Sveum said. "The first two he'll probably play. It's going to start gradually ... it is a combination of the matchups and situations. He's a great fastball hitter. We put him in, early on, situations where matchups are in his favor."
Vitters had a breakout season at Class AAA Iowa, batting .304 with 17 homers. Sveum said at first Vitters would start mostly against left-handed pitchers and against righties that offered favorable matchups.
Most of the playing time continues to go to journeyman Luis Valbuena, who is hitting .204. One knock on Vitters was his defense, but aside from 1 error, he's looked fine in limited action.
"He's made two great plays," Sveum said. "He got an error on a hard-hit one-hopper right in front of him ... tough play for a third baseman. He's was trying to come in, knock it down and keep it in front of him, and it bounced away. Other than that, so far, he's been fine. I can tell by the groundballs, just watching him, that he's improved quite a bit with everything.
"He really hasn't been exposed a lot defensively. This is a lot of evaluation. We'll see where we're at as soon as he's getting more exposure and with game-time groundballs."
Sveum did concede Vitters should be able to hit at this level.
"His swing should definitely play in the big leagues," the manager said. "He's got great hands. He does have what I call dead hands. His hands are very live. He's a great fastball hitter, and great fastball hitters usually survive and do well at this level."
Center fielder Brett Jackson was back in the lineup after missing Saturday's game with what the Cubs described as a whiplash-like injury, suffered during an outfield collision Friday.
"He took swings, and he's a lot, lot better today," said manager Dale Sveum. "Everything went well today."
Jackson was 1-for-3 with a strikeout. He's 3-for-20 (.150) with 12 strikeouts since coming up from Class AAA Iowa Aug. 5.
•Jorge Soler hit his first home run, a grand slam, for Class A Peoria in the Chiefs' 5-3 victory Saturday at Beloit. The Cubs signed the 20-year-old Soler to a nine-year major-league contract on June 30.
•Right-hander Casey Coleman, who has seen time with the Cubs this year, left Saturday's start for Class AAA Iowa after 1 innings because of soreness in the back of his right shoulder.
•The Cubs have signed veteran pitcher Seth McClung to a minor-league contract and assigned him to Iowa. McClung pitched for the Brewers from 2007-09 and most recently had been with the Brewers' Class AAA Nashville club.