MESA, Ariz. — Before most high-stakes at-bats, Cubs infielder David Bote pauses and closes his eyes. He breathes in for three seconds before exhaling slowly.
‘‘It just slows everything down,’’ Bote said after demonstrating his breathing exercises. ‘‘It can slow your heart rate down. It can slow your thinking down with that one breath.’’
Bote, who played every position on the infield last season, is the type of guy who doesn’t get overwhelmed by the moment. During his rookie season in 2018, he came up clutch several times.
In July, Bote hit a tying home run in the ninth inning against the Diamondbacks before first baseman Anthony Rizzo hit a walk-off homer. A month later, Bote stepped in as a pinch hitter and slugged a walk-off grand slam with two outs in the ninth against the Nationals. Two weeks later, he hit a walk-off homer in the 10th against the Reds.
But Bote wasn’t always as calm, cool and collected at the plate as he is now. He remembered one game in 2016, when he was playing for Class A Myrtle Beach, in which he went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts.
‘‘I was just like, ‘I didn’t do anything to help the team today,’ ’’ he said. ‘‘I just felt like, ‘What just happened?’ ’’
Learning how to handle pressure situations takes time. It has taken Bote, 25, a lot of practice in the last few seasons.
Though the game occasionally still speeds up on him, Bote said he feels more focused and in control in those situations because of the Cubs’ mental-skills program, which taught him how to manage his breathing.
‘‘You can’t control the outcome or the result of the situation, but more focus on . . . that one thought that gets you right,’’ he said.
Bote, who’s eager to create more memories this season, has played well this spring. He’s 12-for-26 (.462) with two homers, seven RBI and eight walks in 11 games.
Bote might be an important piece for the Cubs early on, considering the state of their infield. With shortstop Addison Russell suspended for the first 28 games for violating Major League Baseball’s domestic-violence policy, the Cubs’ second-base job will be fluid. With Javy Baez taking over for Russell at short, Bote, Daniel Descalso and Ian Happ will be available to play second.
Descalso, who returned to limited baseball activity Sunday, hasn’t swung a bat since he injured his shoulder while diving for a ball March 3. With Descalso’s timeline still unknown, manager Joe Maddon said Bote might be a better fit for second than Happ, who’s hitting .146 this spring.
‘‘Bote is really good at second,’’ Maddon said. ‘‘When we got him last spring training, I was told he was a second baseman that plays an OK third. And he’s a great third baseman and he’s a very good second baseman.’’
Bote also can play short if Baez needs a day off.
‘‘He picks up a ground ball well, he has a fine arm, he’s actually quicker than you think,’’ Maddon said. ‘‘He’s a strong-looking guy, but he moves well laterally. . . . We have a high level of confidence in him.’’
Bote said he enjoys competing for a starting role. He thinks he can have an impact on the Cubs when they need him most.
‘‘I like running toward the competition,’’ he said. ‘‘If there’s something hard, I like to go out and get it.’’
NOTE: Though the Cubs had a day off Monday, left-hander Jon Lester stayed on schedule by throwing 87 pitches in six innings in a minor-league game. He allowed two runs and five hits, struck out seven and walked two in his longest outing of the spring.
Lester remained on track to be the Cubs’ Opening Day starter.