Cubs believe Rizzo will lead by example

841025.png

Cubs believe Rizzo will lead by example

Anthony Rizzo doesnt want to hear that this is his team now.

The media and the marketing department havent driven this idea alone. Last winter Theo Epsteins front office told Cubs fans they were getting someone mature beyond his years.

Manager Dale Sveum recognized those qualities as far back as spring training and knew he would become an important piece to the clubhouse puzzle. Veteran utility guy Jeff Baker said so last weekend after he was traded to the Detroit Tigers.

The relaunched version of the Cubs returned to the North Side on Thursday night, with almost 33 percent of the schedule left to find out what theyve got. Dusty Baker who has never known this market to be very patient watched his first-place Cincinnati Reds get beat 5-3.

When Rizzo was on the verge of being promoted from Triple-A Iowa, a team official tried to downplay all the hype and observed: Hes not (bleeping) Babe Ruth. But the Cubs are going to put a lot on his shoulders. Just dont expect any Knute Rockne speeches.

When people say stepping up and being a leader, its not like Im going to get (up) on a stool, Rizzo said. Its just kind of doing it by example. You get those big hits, which are always nice, but its about showing up to the field every day and preparing hard and other guys see that. Players see you running balls out hard and they see you working hard. Thats my definition of being a leader.

Rizzo again found himself in the middle of the action with an RBI single in the first inning. He negated his leadoff double in the fourth when he ran to third base on a groundball to short and got thrown out in a 6-3-5 double play, the kind of aggressive mistake the Cubs (44-66) will live with for now.

Rizzo took out catcher Devin Mesoraco with a hard slide on Starlin Castros game-tying, two-run double off the wall in the sixth inning. He worked an eight-pitch walk against Sean Marshall in the eighth before Alfonso Soriano crushed the game-winning, two-run homer toward the batters eye in center.

Rizzo, who turned 23 on Wednesday, is one of 12 players who werent on the Opening Day roster. Between Kerry Woods retirement and the flurry of deadline deals, the Cubs lost roughly five decades of major-league service time.

Cubs people have long predicted that Brett Jackson will become the most popular dude in Wrigleyville, a guy who loves to play hard and get his uniform dirty and doesnt mind the cameras.

Fair or not, Jacksons strikeouts are going to become a daily watch (nine in 16 plate appearances), and Rizzo knows what that scrutiny is like after hitting .141 with one home run in 49 games with the San Diego Padres last season.

Its tough because everyone has their opinion, Rizzo said. Its unfair to base everything just on results. Bretts a hard worker. He does everything he can. Hes going to get better. If he hits, he hits. If he doesnt, he doesnt. But he brings the same approach to the field every day. Thats the biggest thing.

When the Cubs returned to Petco Park this week, Rizzo stood in the visiting dugout with the San Diego media and refused to make excuses.

The ballpark could have been a T-ball field and I wouldnt have a hit a ball, Rizzo said. I wasnt hitting the fastball, or pretty much anything.

Rizzo kept most of his answers boring and didnt gloat about his numbers (.301 average, nine homers, 24 RBIs in 37 games). When asked to identify the problem, he said: Probably between my ears.

Remember that Cubs executives saw Rizzos monster numbers in the Pacific Coast League and reminded everyone that it was a mistake to rush him last season. They had to wait until he had checked off all the boxes (while pushing back free agency by a year). So its convenient to say now, but there is a roadmap for Jackson to follow this winter.

General manager Jed Hoyer who brought Rizzo to San Diego in the Adrian Gonzalez deal and got him back in the Andrew Cashner trade recalled an exit meeting at the end of last season.

(Manager) Bud Black (and I) sat down and said: Hey, until you can catch up with a mid-90s fastball and above, youre going to struggle in the big leagues. You need to shorten your swing. You need to level your swing out.

I give him a lot of credit. We had a hard conversation with him and he made those adjustments.

Vindicated is too strong (a word for us). Its six weeks. Hes going to have ups and downs like any young player, but Im really happy for him.

Rizzo has already sidestepped the media blitz in two cities. He keeps his head down and will stand in front of his locker to face questions. He has developed a quiet routine. The Cubs will expect him to be initiating hard conversations and running that clubhouse for years to come.

James Franklin and staff celebrate Penn State wrestling win in singlets

james-franklin-0220.jpg
USA TODAY

James Franklin and staff celebrate Penn State wrestling win in singlets

Oklahoma State head football coach Mike Gundy — the man with America's finest mullet — made headlines last week when he posted a video promoting an upcoming Oklahoma State wrestling match while wearing a singlet.

Hilarious, right?

Well, as you can tell from that video, the match was against Penn State. And Penn State won.

So, to celebrate the Nittany Lions' big wrestling win, James Franklin and his staff upped the ante, donning singlets for a meeting and tweeting out this "Last Supper" style picture of it Monday morning.

You've got to love seeing football coaches and teams supporting the sports that don't get as much attention.

I'll let you be the judge if this is, as Franklin tweeted, #NotAGoodLookOnUs.

Scottie Lindsey didn't light it up vs. Rutgers, but his return is huge for Northwestern

scottie-lindsey-0220.jpg
AP

Scottie Lindsey didn't light it up vs. Rutgers, but his return is huge for Northwestern

Scottie Lindsey didn't light up the scoreboard in his return to action, and Northwestern still struggled offensively.

But getting their leading scorer back from a four-game absence was huge for the Wildcats.

It was to be expected that Lindsey wouldn't be back at 100 percent in his first game since Jan. 29. Lindsey chipped in just six points, his second lowest scoring output of the season, and played only 24 minutes, his lowest total of the year. Head coach Chris Collins told reporters after Saturday's nail-biter of a win over Rutgers that Lindsey hadn't done anything for three weeks.

"I was proud of Scottie. It's not easy. Really, he didn't work out, he didn't do any exercise for three weeks," Collins said. "A lot of you have your workout regimens that you do, and you know how you feel when you don't do anything for three weeks. You lose conditioning, you lose shape. And so for him on a couple days' notice to find a way to get out there and give us 24 minutes — I was actually mad at myself at halftime. I looked at the box score, and I felt like I played him too long in the first half. I think he played 13 minutes. He didn't really have much left in the second half."

No, the numbers were not pretty in Saturday's game. Northwestern is cruising toward its first-ever NCAA tournament appearance, while Rutgers is spending another season at the bottom of the Big Ten standings. Yet the visiting Scarlet Knights led for much of the second half, a period during which the Cats shot just 35 percent from the field and made only seven baskets. Seven of Northwestern's nine turnovers came in the second half, and it took some heroic 3-point shooting by Gavin Skelly and Bryant McIntosh in the final minutes to prevent a third straight home loss and what would have definitely been the team's worst loss of the season.

But even with all that, the Cats have to be thrilled to have Lindsey back on the floor.

In the six games prior to Lindsey's absence — a six-game winning streak with victories over Nebraska, Rutgers, Iowa, Ohio State, Nebraska again and Indiana — the Cats averaged 74.5 points per game and shot a combined 44.5 percent from the field. But in the last five games, the four without Lindsey and Saturday's win over Rutgers, Northwestern has averaged 63.8 points per game and shot a collective 39.6 percent from the field.

Obviously the quality of opponent has a lot to do with that. Three of the four games during Lindsey's absence came against the Big Ten's three best teams. But Lindsey sitting down for those three games plus the unexpected loss to Illinois made a tough stretch a whole lot tougher.

Even after Saturday's rough game against Rutgers, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic that the Cats can start putting up some points during the regular season's final two weeks.

There are only four games left on the regular-season schedule: at Illinois, at Indiana, home against Michigan and home against Purdue. Those first three opponents are among the Big Ten's worst, defensively, though Michigan has stepped things up of late. That right there ought to provide perfect opportunities for Northwestern to start scoring points again.

And there's the way McIntosh has played of late. He's finally found some consistency, which proved challenging earlier in the year. He was again great Saturday, scoring 18 points and hitting the biggest shot of the night, a go-ahead 3-pointer with under a minute to play. In his last nine games, McIntosh has scored at least 17 points in seven of those and 20 or more in five of them.

Plus, Lindsey will obviously get better. He'll get healthier and more accustomed to being back on the court. And he'll get back to the guy, Northwestern hopes, who averaged better than 15 points a game before his four-game absence.

"He's only going to get better," Collins said. "His whole thing is every day he's got to keep working, he's got to get through that soreness, he's got to get through that fatigue and get his conditioning back.

"Hopefully we can get him back to being the Scottie that we've had most of the year."