MIAMI – The day after watching his .500-ish team get shut out again, and as the growing pains continued for his young hitters, Cubs manager Joe Maddon benched the self-proclaimed greatest leadoff guy of all-time.
“I’m hoping Jon Jay goes 5-for-5 today,” Anthony Rizzo said Saturday at Marlins Park. “Wally Pipped out of that spot.”
In the middle of a stretch where the Cubs will play 17 days in a row, Maddon figured he would give Rizzo a break against a Miami lefty (Justin Nicolino) instead of Sunday’s right-handed starter (Edinson Volquez). An added bonus: The All-Star first baseman grew up in South Florida and has a home and family here and reigning National League MVP Kris Bryant feels comfortable in the other corner infield spot.
“Get him off his feet,” Maddon said. “He’s been going after it pretty hard being the leadoff hitter. I think he’s done a wonderful job, obviously, so I don’t want to beat him up. I don’t want to beat up our bullpen. I don’t want to beat up our players right now. We still have a long way to go.
“If you ride him too hard, man, the point of diminishing returns will set in. All factors considered, I thought it was the right thing to do.”
Rizzo put up a .700 on-base percentage leading off the last 10 games, homering three times to jumpstart the offense and enjoying the smack talk with his teammates. Maddon said Rizzo will be back at the top of the order on Sunday, and the manager doesn’t have many options after the failed Kyle Schwarber experiment and Ben Zobrist’s wrist injury forced him onto the disabled list.
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Do you expect to be back in the leadoff spot?
“I play first base for the Cubs,” Rizzo said. “I don’t make the lineup card.”
Are you still the greatest leadoff hitter of all-time?
“For the week I was,” Rizzo said with a smile. “I said that after the first day.”
Eight draft picks in about 3 ½ hours. It was a busy Saturday for the Blackhawks, and when general manager Stan Bowman talked that afternoon about the team’s Day 2 haul, he came prepared.
“I have my little cheat sheet,” Bowman said of the paper on which he had written the Blackhawks’ eight newest prospects.
After a few days’ worth of moves the Blackhawks focused on the future, taking nine players over two days at the NHL Draft. It was a successful weekend for the Blackhawks, who hosted the draft for the first time and built up assets, especially on the blue line. Five of the Blackhawks’ nine selections were defensemen.
“One of the things we talked about was looking at the market. There’s a high value on defensemen. We’re not necessarily looking at the draft but our team this year and over the next couple of years; those are the assets that are valuable around the league,” Bowman said. “Look at the trade Calgary made [for Travis Hamonic], defensemen are a valuable commodity. That was a priority coming in and we were able to accomplish it.”
What comes next
The Blackhawks got what they wanted at this weekend’s draft but the focus will soon shift, as free agency opens on July 1. It remains to be seen what the Blackhawks will have cap-wise come a week from now. Currently, according to CapFriendly.com, they’re $1.445 million over the $75 million cap. It’s doubtful the Blackhawks apply the long-term injured reserve tag on Marian Hossa during the offseason. It’s possible they could still trade Marcus Kruger to gain some space. Bowman said, one way or another, “there will be some movement.”
“We’ll bring some players in, I don’t know how many, what position or what level,” he said. “This is where there’s a lot of activity, the couple weeks in the middle of June until the middle of July. That’s when the most changes happen. We’ll go to work, now that we’re past this.”
Wait for it
The Blackhawks also have to decide whether or not to qualify restricted free agents Dennis Rasmussen and Tomas Jurco. Bowman said that’ll be decided by Monday.
“I’ve had discussions with both agents,” he said. “I don’t have an answer right now but we’ll have that worked out in the next day and a half.”