Cubs waiting for another breakout performance from Rizzo

Cubs waiting for another breakout performance from Rizzo
June 18, 2013, 9:15 pm
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ST. LOUIS -- Anthony Rizzo doesn’t move the needle on talk shows and Twitter the way Starlin Castro does, so his game doesn’t get endlessly dissected. It’s overlooked, but the Cubs are watching both of those young core players struggle.

Rizzo hasn’t homered in a month, seeing his batting average drop 41 points since May 18 and his OPS fall from .890 to .771, a slump that forced manager Dale Sveum to give his first baseman the day off on Tuesday at Busch Stadium.

This lineup is supposed to revolve around Rizzo and Castro whenever the Cubs are supposed to compete with the St. Louis Cardinals. It’s been almost a year since “Rizzo Watch” ended and the Cubs promoted their hyped prospect from Triple-A Iowa, hoping to jumpstart their offense.

Rizzo has hit .266 with 25 homers and 87 RBI in 155 games in a Cubs uniform, while also signing a contract that could run through 2021 and be worth some $70 million, putting him in face-of-the-franchise territory.

“It’s been a whirlwind,” Rizzo said. “You can even bring it back to 24 months (ago) with San Diego. Getting traded, coming up last year, having a lot of success and then coming in this year and the Cubs committing to me.

“I’m very, very grateful and very humbled by it. I think about two years ago where I was and (everything that’s happened). It’s just about staying focused and working hard. There’s been good times and bad times over the last year and you just got to keep working and moving forward.”

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It shouldn’t be breaking news that hitters go through slumps, and to a certain extent this is all part of the process. But everything’s magnified in a big market, and the Cubs have invested so much capital into the idea of “The Core.”

“You go in knowing that most hitters are going to struggle in one month of the season,” Sveum said. “That’s just part of the game, and we all know the Hall of Famers and guys that are on their way to the Hall of Fame don’t really have those lulls.

“Sometimes they (struggle) when they are young players, and then gradually it turns into a more consistent career throughout 162 games. (But) obviously you don’t want your two core players doing it at the same time.”

Castro -- who began Tuesday on a 11-for-73 skid and hitting .241 overall this season -- might see his consecutive-games streak (264) end if the manager decides to give him a break.

What if Castro and Rizzo aren’t the players the Cubs thought they were? It’s too early to seriously entertain that question.

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“It would be a red flag if maybe you were expecting young players that hadn’t produced yet at the big leagues,” Sveum said. “But these guys have produced -- Castro in a bigger sample -- and we know that we’ve seen Rizzo (overcome) the deficiencies in hitting a fastball. We’ve seen him have a lot of success and hit good pitching and all kinds of pitching.

“It’s not a red flag that way. These guys will end up figuring it out. It’s just those processes that happen in careers.”

Eight of Rizzo’s 10 homers came in April, the same month where he accounted for 20 of his 39 RBI. The Cubs say they aren’t concerned about the trend line.

“If you look at his season, it’s really been cold streak, early hot streak and a cold streak, so I’m assuming we have a hot streak here coming up,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “Up until the end of April, he was hitting down in the .170-.180 range and really struggled and then got really hot and then he struggled again.

“As a young hitter, he’ll probably go through those ups and downs. I’m not worried about it. I think he’ll snap out of it. But I can’t imagine it had to do with the money. While we were actually talking about the contract and negotiating it, he was really hot. Even in the days that followed, he continued to hit, so I can’t imagine why it would have affected him afterward.”

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Rizzo’s been asked the question several different times and insists that he isn’t pressing after signing that seven-year, $41 million deal last month.

“I personally think that’s all just outside noise,” Rizzo said. “My contract doesn’t kick in for really three years from now, to be honest. People who know me (know) I put a lot of pressure on myself to perform.

“In baseball, you fail most of the time, so it’s a little frustrating. (But) it’s part of the game, and it’s part of understanding that this will beat you up and get the best of you at times and challenge you.”