Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo confident the best is yet to come
BY GORDON WITTENMYER Staff Reporter August 23, 2013 11:17PM
Updated: September 25, 2013 6:18AM
SAN DIEGO — Anthony Rizzo has the long-term contract and the left-handed power and until this week had the marquee No. 3 spot in the Cubs’ lineup.
What he doesn’t have is the production this year to back it up in a perform-or-sink business, or the kind of demeanor that would suggest he’s even impatient about his up-and-down season.
So who is Rizzo as he returns to the scene of his big-league debut with barely five weeks left in his first full season in the majors?
And who will he become? More Prince Fielder or more Adam LaRoche — or Lyle Overbay?
‘‘Yeah, he was here for three months [last season],’’ Cubs manager Dale Sveum said Friday before the Cubs scored six runs in the first inning and nothing more in an 8-6 loss to the San Diego Padres. ‘‘But we forget it’s his first year ever playing every single day at a major-league level. Look at [the Padres’] Chase Headley. Rizzo’s having a monster year compared to Chase Headley, and he was almost an MVP last year. And this is [Rizzo’s] second year of doing this. So that 20 [homers] and 68 [RBI] he has isn’t a complete disaster.’’
With so few Cubs commanding attention for the long term at the major-league level, it’s easy to criticize guys such as Starlin Castro and Rizzo, especially after each got a seven-year cost-containing contract.
‘‘Like I told them, part of being Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro is dealing with an every-day — whether you want to call it a beat-down or not — it’s dealing with knowing you’re the focal point,’’ Sveum said. ‘‘And it’s not going away.’’
Rizzo, who struggled in a 49-game big-league debut with the Padres in 2011, returned last August on a major-league high; he was a .300 hitter with nine home runs in his first six weeks as a Cub.
Now? The 24-year-old first baseman isn’t sure of anything except that he says, ‘‘I’m a big leaguer now. Last year I wasn’t. I was still coming up, making my way.’’
It’s not exactly a smooth path he’s on this year.
‘‘Times like even these now, where I have the home runs and somewhat the RBIs, I look at it and I could be so much better,’’ he said. ‘‘And that’s something to kind of hang your hat on.
‘‘What I’m doing right now, to be honest, is at my worst.’’
He said the only thing to do is stay focused on getting better and look forward to what the experience might mean for next year.
‘‘You have to get through this, more mentally than physically,’’ he said. ‘‘Physically I feel better than I’ve ever felt. It’s more just that mental grind. When the whole process sets in, I think that’s when it’s going to be great.’’
The Cubs are counting on it with him and Castro, 23. They need them to be there and established well enough to show the way for the rest of the projected core.
‘‘Sometimes we want too much now,’’ Sveum said. ‘‘We get too carried away — and we’re all at fault for that — because it’s a production-oriented business. We have to catch ourselves and understand our main job is for these guys to be 26 years old, primed and ready to really produce and be consistent on an every-day basis.’’
NOTE: The Cubs completed the Matt Garza trade with the Texas Rangers by acquiring right-hander Neil Ramirez via waiver claim. The Cubs waited three weeks to make their decision to assure Ramirez’s health after his brief stay on the minor-league DL. He was assigned to Class AA Tennessee.