Anthony Rizzo made such a good first impression at Clark and Addison that it became an automatic: The Cubs first baseman would double last year’s half-season and put up something like 30 homers and 100 RBI.
Rizzo may wind up there by the end of September, but he was never under the illusion that it was going to be easy. At the age of 23, he’s someone who analyzes and tinkers with his swing, breaks down video and studies catchers’ tendencies.
The Cubs executives who’ve followed him from the Boston Red Sox to the San Diego Padres to the North Side put it this way: Mature beyond his years.
As the defending World Series champs head into Wrigley Field, the Cubs (3-5) will need a jolt of offense. Beginning Thursday, the San Francisco Giants are scheduled to roll out Ryan Vogelsong, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Tim Lincecum. This lineup revolves around Rizzo.
“It’s just a matter of trying to do too much,” Rizzo said. “One at-bat, I’ll be locked in and then the next at-bat I’ll try (too hard) and that’s the problem. It’s so early. Everyone says they’re not panicking, but everyone wants to have good results. It’s real frustrating, but it’s just the game.”
Rizzo crushed the first pitch he saw on Opening Day in Pittsburgh and almost drove that two-run homer into the Allegheny River. But since then he has only two extra-base hits – including another two-run shot in Atlanta – and he is hitting .185.
Rizzo has admitted that he got in his own head during a 49-game run with the Padres in 2011. He hit .141, struck out 46 times and generated only one home run. That experience forced him to overhaul his swing and prove it at Triple-A Iowa during the first half of last season.
“He starts analyzing and thinking too much about what the pitcher’s going to do to him,” manager Dale Sveum said. “Instead of just getting a good pitch to hit and being ready to (drive it, he’s) trying to guess along with each pitch.”
After all the hype, Rizzo was remarkably consistent for the Cubs, finishing at 15 homers and 48 RBI in 87 games and impressing teammates with his professional attitude and work habits.
“The league is going to make adjustments to him,” team president Theo Epstein said. “They’re going to study all the film and all the charts from last year and see where he might be vulnerable and start pitching to those vulnerabilities. It’s his job to recognize that, close those off and make an adjustment back.”
This is the new Rizzo Watch. Sveum saw his No. 3 hitter double in the game-tying run off Milwaukee Brewers reliever Michael Gonzalez during Tuesday night’s 6-3 comeback victory.
“Hopefully it’s huge,” Sveum said. “He hasn’t been hitting with a lot of confidence – let alone off lefties – and to do it on a breaking ball was even better (with) the way he stayed on it, stayed with it. Those are the kind of things that springboard you into getting hot.”