Not ideal, but Rizzo adjusting to life in Cubs' No. 2 spot

Not ideal, but Rizzo adjusting to life in Cubs' No. 2 spot
August 25, 2013, 10:00 pm
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Tony Andracki

For one day, Dale Sveum's lineup wasn't second-guessed.

Anthony Rizzo, in his first career start in the No. 2 spot in the order, drilled two home runs for the Cubs as part of a three-hit day that also included a walk.

But that was Wednesday.

Now, on Sunday, the questions have started up again and continue to come fast and furious.

For five straight games, the lineup around Starlin Castro and Rizzo has changed each day, but the two franchise players remain in the one and two spots, respectively.

[RELATED: All eyes on Castro and Rizzo]

"With the lineup we have and the personnel we have, it's been difficult," Sveum said. "Especially to fill in the four hitters when we lost [Alfonso] Soriano. And then leadoff when we lost [David] DeJesus.

"You're in a fist-fight for every position because nobody has that prototypical place in the order that they've had success in, or experienced, veteran-type guys [to fill holes]. So you end up having a lot of different lineups."

[MORE: Samardzija ready to make his final push with Cubs]

Rizzo isn't your prototypical two-hitter. When the Cubs inked him to a seven-year, $41 million deal in May, they envisioned him as part of the heart of the lineup, preferably as the team's No. 3 hitter day in and day out.

It hasn't worked out that way, as the 24-year-old first baseman has struggled to the tune of a .231 average and .177 mark with runners in scoring position.

As Rizzo returned to San Diego, where his big-league career got started, he collected four singles in three games, but is still hitting just .171 in August. Castro hasn't fared much better, sitting at .181 and has just five hits in 25 at-bats in the leadoff spot.

"They both have sky-is-the-limit potential," Cubs third baseman Donnie Murphy said. "They're just going through their little funks right now."

The Cubs' offense hasn't been blowing people away since Castro and Rizzo moved to the top of the order, but it had been decent, averaging a modest 4.75 runs per game before they ran into Andrew Cashner and the Padres bullpen in a wacky 3-2 15-inning loss Sunday at Petco Park.

[RELATED: Cashner out to stick it to Cubs]

Sveum admitted prior to Sunday's game Rizzo would likely stay in the two-spot for the time being, though everything is fluid nowadays as the Cubs continue their trek toward 90-plus losses with five weeks left in the season.

"I mean, that's not where you want him to be, obviously," Sveum said. "Where you hit in the lineup is irrelevant for the most part. Sometimes, though, it does give you a little bit of relaxation where you stop worry about this certain thing in this spot. But everybody's different."

[MORE: Javier Baez impressing Cubs' front office]

For those old-school baseball purists who believe it matters just as much who's hitting behind you in the lineup for protection, Sveum doesn't agree. The Cubs skipper has been in professional baseball for 30 years and admitted no matter who is in the on-deck circle, pitchers will throw to a guy's weakness in this day and age.

"Part of the process for these young hitters is learning to take your walks," Sveum said.

Rizzo has done that this season, with four free passes in five games in the No. 2 spot and 63 overall. For all the talk of his struggles, he is on pace for 40 doubles, 25 homers, 86 RBI and 79 walks. This after a half-season in 2012 that consisted of 15 doubles, 15 homers, 48 RBI and an .805 OPS.

"Sometimes we forget he's a kid that is in his first full year in the big leagues," Sveum said. "Obviously, he came up last year and did a nice job. We forget it's his first full year with all the pressure and everything.

"So when his year gets done and it says 25 and 80, well, there are a lot of players that have gone through this game in history and not had 25 and 80 in their first full season."