Anthony Rizzo pumped up to play for Italy, make name with Cubs

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Anthony Rizzo pumped up to play for Italy, make name with Cubs

This time last year, even the Cubs executives who knew Anthony Rizzo better than anyone else couldn't be certain that they were getting a core player for the next decade.

Rizzo doesn't have to worry about getting traded anytime soon. He won't be going to spring training to try to win a job. Who knows what the Cubs would do without him now? He's supposed to be a leader in the clubhouse, but will leave camp because he felt he couldn't pass up this chance.

Rizzo - whose great-grandfather is from Sicily - spoke with the front office and manager Dale Sveum and got their blessing to play for Italy in the World Baseball Classic.

"They're fully supportive," Rizzo said Wednesday. "People say: 'Oh, the risk factor of getting injured.' But it's just like spring training. I play every game as hard as I can, so it's not different from that standpoint. Obviously, I would love to play for USA. That was my first choice, but they got all the 'monsters.'

"Italy's a great opportunity. I come from a very strong Italian background and to represent (the) whole country is a pretty cool experience."

Rizzo said his teammates will include Jason Grilli, Nick Punto and Chris Denorfia. He's also looking forward to working with Mike Piazza, Italy's hitting coach. Provisional rosters for the World Baseball Classic will be unveiled on Thursday.

The Cubs see a major difference between a position player participating in the event and a pitcher being thrown into a competitive situation that early in camp. Rizzo also felt better about his decision knowing that Italy will play its games - versus Mexico, Canada and Team USA (March 7-9) - in the Phoenix area, not far from the Cubs complex.

"It certainly is something he's taken pride in and we support the WBC as a whole," team president Theo Epstein said. "Now if he pulls a miracle and is gone all month, that might be another story.

"I have a lot of faith in him, but they have a tough group."

Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and scoutingplayer development chief Jason McLeod have a lot invested in their first baseman, the prospect they once drafted for the Boston Red Sox and packaged in the Adrian Gonzalez deal with the San Diego Padres.

Rizzo has accepted the responsibilities that come with being a leader. He has been patient with the media and stuck to the talking points. He didn't let the big-market hype overwhelm him. But he doesn't want to see himself as the face of the franchise.

"I don't look at it like that," Rizzo said. "I have to go out there and produce, and it's got to be that tunnel vision mentality until I actually really do make a name for myself.

"I've done a little bit, but Alfonso Soriano's made a name. He's done it every single year. The superstars in the game have done it. I'm just coming up and I want to continue to work hard every day, (be) myself and just let it go from there."

The Cubs are eager to measure The Rizzo Effect - how his 15 homers and 48 RBI in 87 games last year will translate across an entire season. He wants to win a Gold Glove playing alongside second baseman Darwin Barney and shortstop Starlin Castro. It will be a little easier going into spring training knowing that he won't have to look over his shoulder, but he's vowed to keep the same mentality.

"I still want to go in and prove that I can be elite," Rizzo said.

Jake Arrieta gives up five runs in first, Cubs fall in series-opener with Red Sox

Jake Arrieta gives up five runs in first, Cubs fall in series-opener with Red Sox

BOSTON — Andrew Benintendi hit a solo homer off Jake Arrieta during a five-run first inning, and the Boston Red Sox held on to beat the Cubs 5-4 on Friday night.

Every Boston starter had at least one hit, and Hanley Ramirez, Mitch Moreland, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Christian Vazquez drove in a run each.

Left-hander Drew Pomeranz got the win with six innings of two-run ball, surrendering solo homers to Kris Bryant and Albert Almora Jr. in the early innings before settling in. He allowed six hits and two walks while striking out seven.

Boston has won its last nine interleague games at Fenway Park.

Arrieta logged his shortest start since Aug. 28, 2014, lasting only 4 1/3 innings and giving up 10 hits and three walks with five strikeouts.

CubsTalk Podcast: Top prospect update

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USA TODAY

CubsTalk Podcast: Top prospect update

Mick Gillispie — the broadcaster for the Double-A Tennessee Smokies as well as the Cubs' spring training broadcaster — joins Tony Andracki to break down some of the organization's top prospects, analyzing the beginning of the 2017 season for guys Ian Happ, Duane Underwood, Eloy Jimenez, Chesny Young, Victor Caratini and Trevor Clifton.

Mick also explains the wackiest game in Smokies history, how a winning culture has disseminated throughout the Cubs minor-league teams and what the World Series ring ceremony was like in Tennessee.

Check out the latest edition of the CubsTalk Podcast: