Kap: 'The Riz Kid' gets off to a strong start

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Kap: 'The Riz Kid' gets off to a strong start

Every high school team has that one gifted freshman who gets called up to varsity and threatens all the veterans positions.

Sometimes the elder statesmen label the youngster as an outcast, other times his talent is embraced and it pushes everyone else to perform better. Anthony Rizzo is the new kid on campus and Cubs veterans are certainly leaning toward the latter.

Since Rizzo was called up a week ago the Cubs have won five out of six and have shown flashes of improvement as a team. "The Riz kid" himself has gone 7-for-23 (.304) with two home runs, five RBIs, two doubles and a .986 OPS. He has also delivered the game-winning RBI on three occasions. And lets be honest no matter how good he is none of the seniors want to get outplayed by a freshman.

Since Rizzos arrival Luis Valbuena is hitting .333 -- .87 points above his average -- with six RBIs and a 1.030 OPS. David Dejesus is also a prime example of the Rizzo effect, hitting .64 points above his average since the call-up. Darwin Barney has been hitting well above his average. That, coupled with a few outstanding nights in the field shows great progress for him as well.

Whether related to Rizzos arrival or not, Starlin Castro took four walks last week, which is more than a third of his season total. I dont know if its the unrelenting Chicago heat, Rizzos arrival or a mystery element, but the Cubs have more closely resembled a team with playoff hopes than one in last place of late.

Rizzo doesnt appear to be feeling the pressure either -- because honestly, there isnt much. This is the perfect environment for a talented prospect to find his bearings in what can be a cruel and unforgiving league. If anyone is feeling the heat it is Rizzos teammates who are trying to keep pace with the new guy.

Cubs brass has made it clear that this team is in the process of a massive roster overhaul and sometimes all it takes is a fresh, talented face in the clubhouse to remind some of the veterans that tomorrow is never a guarantee.

It is much too early to pass judgment on the new guy but there does seem to be an aura about him. In one week "The Rizzard of Oz" has granted Valbuena a swing, Barney a glove and Castro an eye.

But most importantly, he has granted Chicago a glimmer of hope for the future.

Joe Musso contributed to this update.

Jonathan Marchessault's hat trick leads Panthers rout of Blackhawks

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AP

Jonathan Marchessault's hat trick leads Panthers rout of Blackhawks

SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) -- Jonathan Marchessault scored his first career hat trick, James Reimer stopped 25 shots for his first shutout of the season and the Florida Panthers routed the Chicago Blackhawks 7-0 on Saturday night.

Jonathan Huberdeau had a goal and three assists, and Aleksander Barkov added a goal and two assists for Florida. Reilly Smith and Nick Bjugstad also scored to give the Panthers their largest margin of victory since an 8-0 win over Toronto on Feb. 5, 2008.

Marchessault had two goals in a 3-1 win over Arizona on Thursday. He has nine goals over his last nine games and leads the Panthers with 28.

Corey Crawford stopped 21 shots for the Blackhawks before being lifted at 4:59 of the third for Scott Darling, who allowed three goals on six shots.

Already leading 3-0, the Panthers poured in four goals in the third.

Brett Anderson’s personality mixing well with Cubs: ‘I don’t hate anybody yet’

Brett Anderson’s personality mixing well with Cubs: ‘I don’t hate anybody yet’

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Joe Maddon's T-shirt slogans can get a little old at times, but the Cubs manager found a new audience in Brett Anderson, who liked the idea of "Be Uncomfortable" after signing a one-year, prove-it deal with the defending champs.

"It's been awesome so far," Anderson said. "That's my running joke – we're a month into it now or whatever it is – and I don't hate anybody yet.

"That's a testament to the group as a whole – and maybe me evolving as a person."

Yes, Anderson's sarcasm, social-media presence and groundball style fits in with a team built around short-term pitching and Gold Glove defense. The if-healthy lefty finished his Cactus League tour on Saturday afternoon by throwing four innings (one unearned run) during a 7-4 loss to the Colorado Rockies in front of 13,565 at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick.

Anderson will open the season as the No. 4 starter after a camp that has been remarkably low-key and drama-free.

"I'm kind of cynical by nature, but it's a fun group to be a part of," Anderson said, "(with) young guys that are exciting and happy to be here. And then obviously the mix of veterans, too, that are here with intentions of winning another World Series."

To make that happen, the pitching staff will have to again stay unbelievably healthy. Anderson rolled with a general question about how he physically feels now compared to where he's usually at by this time of year.

"Obviously better than last year, because I was walking with a gimp and all that stuff," said Anderson, who underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair a bulging disk in his lower back last March. "No, my body feels good, my arm feels good and you're getting into the dog days of spring training where you're itching to get to the real thing."