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Anthony Rizzo impresses Chipper Jones

Anthony Rizzo has looked comfortable 3-hole manager Dale Sveum says it’s no coincidence Cubs are playing better since his call-up.

Anthony Rizzo has looked comfortable in the 3-hole, and manager Dale Sveum says it’s no coincidence the Cubs are playing better since his call-up. | Nam Y. Huh~AP

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Updated: August 5, 2012 6:27AM

ATLANTA — Seventeen years ago, it was Chipper Jones.

And he had nothing on Anthony Rizzo.

‘‘I mean, I took my lumps; there’s no doubt about it,’’ said Jones, the Atlanta Braves’ eight-time All-Star, recalling the start of that rookie year he spent as Bobby Cox’s No. 3 hitter. ‘‘There’s a learning curve there.’’

The Cubs aren’t the only ones in baseball impressed with the way Rizzo, dropped into the middle of the order and dubbed some kind of a savior, has handled that curve in his first week as the Next Big Thing in Chicago.

Even before he doubled in his first at-bat Tuesday, Rizzo was hitting .304 with two home runs among four extra-base hits and go-ahead RBI in four of seven games.

‘‘He’s grown in leaps and bounds since I saw him in San Diego last year,’’ said Jones, who also had a brief big-league taste before getting the middle-of-the-order call in 1995. ‘‘He’s able to hit the ball to [all] fields, able to do it with power.

‘‘I agree that if the Cubs believe that he’s their 3-hole hitter of the future, stick him in there. Let him get pitched like a 3-hole hitter. Let him make his adjustments on his own. You can tell just in the little bit I’ve seen of him over the last two seasons that he’s made some really nice adjustments at the plate. He’s starting to reap the benefits.’’

If the Cubs are right about Rizzo, the four-game holiday series in
Atlanta this week could mark a passing of a roman candle in the
National League: Rizzo breaking in as an every-day big-league slugger and Jones in the middle of a farewell tour after announcing this spring he’ll retire at the end of the season.

Who knows whether this first-week glimpse of Rizzo is a glimpse into the next 10 years of his career?

‘‘Obviously, nothing’s gone wrong yet,’’ said Cubs manager Dale
Sveum, who didn’t deliberate long with the front office on where to bat Rizzo upon his arrival. ‘‘We’ve won a lot of games since he’s been here. He’s done everything you’re supposed to do in the third hole.

‘‘You have to have talent to hit third, fourth or fifth, but there’s a mental edge that you have to have to hit in those spots, too, because those are RBI spots. It’s because you can smell and taste RBI, and you find a way to get those RBI.’’

Jones, who struggled the first few weeks he took over that role as a rookie, said Rizzo has it tougher.

‘‘It was easier for me because of the people I had hitting around me,’’ he said. ‘‘I had a guy in the leadoff hole [Marquis Grissom] who got 200 hits and stole 40 or 50 bases. I also had a 500-home-run hitter [Fred McGriff] hitting right behind me and a couple of good hitters [David Justice, Javy Lopez] hitting right behind him.

‘‘When you’ve got so many good players to sponge from, whether it’s McGriff, Justice, Marquis or Terry Pendleton, it quickens the curve.’’

That doesn’t mean Rizzo doesn’t have help, Jones said.

‘‘I think he’s in a good spot because [Alfonso] Soriano’s on fire and [Bryan] LaHair’s had a great first half,’’ he said. ‘‘So he’s got some protection behind him. If [Tony] Campana, [David] DeJesus and [Starlin] Castro are on base, you’re going to see him do a lot of damage.’’

Right or wrong, he’s already being credited with making a significant difference in the 6-for-7 run the Cubs took into the game Tuesday. Six of those games coincided with the
addition of Rizzo to the lineup.

‘‘You don’t want to put everything on somebody’s shoulders, but I don’t believe in coincidences,
either,’’ Sveum said.

Never mind that the starting pitchers were 5-0 with a 1.41 ERA in the six wins during that stretch.

‘‘We lost a lot of one-run games [earlier] because we just didn’t put anything up on the board,’’ Sveum said. ‘‘And in three of those [recent] wins — and it could have been four [Monday] night — he knocked in the winning runs. 

‘‘Like I said, I don’t believe in
coincidences. There are times when certain people change the dynamics of a lineup and a team.’’

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