Cubs expect Rizzo to take his game to the next level

Cubs expect Rizzo to take his game to the next level
April 27, 2013, 10:15 pm
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MIAMI – The Cubs believed Anthony Rizzo would benefit from the World Baseball Classic experience, that playing for Team Italy would help him learn how to slow the game down and channel all that adrenaline in October.

The Italians were eliminated in March here at Marlins Park, about 45 minutes south of where Rizzo grew up in Parkland, Fla. Getting to that next level will be like a start-and-stop ride through Miami traffic.

That’s become clear almost four weeks into what will be Rizzo’s first full season in the big leagues. It’s easy to forget that the 23-year-old first baseman isn’t a finished product when the team puts him front and center in marketing campaigns.

“It’s not about me,” Rizzo said. “It’s just about the team.”

The Cubs do need Rizzo to carry their offense and solidify himself as a core player, or else the timeline for this rebuilding project could need a recalibration.

Even if the idea of demoting Rizzo and All-Star shortstop Starlin Castro to Triple-A Iowa was a total non-starter, manager Dale Sveum didn’t mind sending that message through the media.

But it’s also a game of expectations. When Rizzo struggled with the San Diego Padres in 2011 – hitting .141 with one homer and 46 strikeouts in 128 at-bats – he probably would have killed for a month like this.

After an “embarrassing” 0-for-4 with three strikeouts on Thursday night in front of his family and friends in South Florida, Rizzo responded by hitting two bombs on Friday. He walked two times during Saturday’s 3-2 win over the Marlins, offsetting his .195 average with eight homers and 18 RBI in April.

Sveum got tangled up with his words trying to keep it in perspective: “It’s still a nice month having eight homers, so at least that’s probably kept him insane.”

Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer – who knew Rizzo as a Boston Red Sox prospect, got him in the Adrian Gonzalez deal and helped engineer another big trade for the Cubs – put it in context.

“He’s obviously shown that he has huge power,” Hoyer said. “Hopefully, he’ll start hitting some more line drives and getting some balls to fall in and cut his strike out rate a little bit. (He’s) a young player, but he can tighten up his game as well.

“He’s got great hands, a great arm. There’s no reason this guy isn’t a Gold Glove-quality first baseman. He’s made too many mistakes for a guy with that kind of potential. Some of that’s youth and some of that needs to change. He’s a big part of our future, but he’s not immune from some of the mistakes we’ve been making.”

Sveum dismissed a recent item saying that he had changed Rizzo’s mechanics this season. But Rizzo is someone who likes to tinker with his swing and might have found something watching video before Friday’s breakout game.

“Just be Anthony Rizzo, the guy that came up last year and took his RBIs, worried about RBIs more than home runs,” Sveum said. “He’s getting a little too animated in his approach right now, meaning a lot of movement going on and indecision on what load to use and that kind of thing.

“(We) just want him to be Anthony Rizzo and not a guy who sets goals in different areas – not 40-plus home runs. (Guys who) have the ability to do those kinds of things (can) set the goals a little too high instead of worrying about OPS and driving runs in.”

There are going to be many ups and downs before Rizzo can feel that elimination-round pressure, but the Cubs believe he will ride it all out with them.

“We are young,” Rizzo said. “We want to win and we’re hungry to win. (We) just got to keep fighting and keep believing in ourselves and each other.”