Anthony Rizzo showing maturity at the plate
BY TONI GINNETTI For Sun-Times Media May 18, 2014 8:57PM
Chicago Cubs' Anthony Rizzo hits an RBI double off St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Jake Westbrook, scoring Starlin Castro, during the first inning of a baseball game Thursday, July 11 2013, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Updated: June 23, 2014 1:26PM
When Anthony Rizzo bunted to the open left side of the infield in the first inning Thursday against the St. Louis Cardinals, he wasn’t thinking about that two-out situation alone.
And he made the point again in his next at-bat, when he laid down another bunt single against the same defensive shift.
The real point is about the rest of the season.
‘‘It’s so important to learn to use the whole field and knowing how they’re pitching you,’’ Cubs hitting coach Bill Mueller said. ‘‘I think he’s done a wonderful job in his approach in how those [opponents] are trying to bait him, and he’s not taking the bait.
‘‘It’ll help him throughout the season.’’
For a team that is geared toward the future, it’s the kind of small victory the coaching staff is counting on in this losing year.
‘‘His approach was to get on base,’’ manager Rick Renteria said. ‘‘He’s not thinking, ‘I’ll hit a solo home run.’ His next at-bat, he saw they were doing the same thing [defensively], and he said, ‘I’ll do it again.’ ’’
The Cubs trailed by four that inning, but because Rizzo reached, he scored on Starlin Castro’s home run.
‘‘If they’re going to shift me, then I’ll take the hit,’’ said Rizzo, who didn’t see the pronounced shift again from the Cardinals or from other teams since.
‘‘People can talk about hitting home runs or driving the ball, but it’s a little harder than it looks. It’s frustrating when you do work a count and put a good swing on the ball, and you think it’s a hit. And then someone’s standing where they shouldn’t be — or I guess nowadays it’s where they should be.
‘‘If they give me that side, I’ll take advantage of it and try to get something going.’’
The Cubs had eight hits Sunday in their 4-2 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers, and seven were for extra bases, including home runs by Welington Castillo and Mike Olt.
‘‘All the guys put together some pretty good at-bats against [Brewers starter Marco] Estrada, and it was good to see,’’ Renteria said.
There’s a school of thought that says holding a No. 3 hitter such as Rizzo to a two-out ‘‘free’’ hit is just what the defensive team wants. The same goes for a cleanup hitter drawing a walk, the thinking goes.
But more true in baseball is that men on base are potential runs — and the more men on base, the more an opposing pitcher has to work.
‘‘Getting guys on base is huge,’’ said Olt, who leads National League rookies in homers. ‘‘We came through when we needed to.’’
Rizzo went 2-for-3 with a walk and scored two runs in his ‘‘bunting’’ game against the Cardinals. He was 0-for-3 with a walk Sunday, but that walk was his sixth in the last six games. He’s hitting .283 in the last 17 games (17-for-60) with four homers, 11 RBI and 16 walks. His .400 on-base percentage puts him in the top 10 in the NL.
‘‘For him to use the other side of the field, it shows he’s understanding and maturing to defeat what teams are trying to do to him,’’ Mueller said.
‘‘He’s playing the game to the particular at-bat and defense,’’ Renteria said. ‘‘He’s smart enough to be understanding the game more and understanding strategies.’’
It’s taking what they give him, Rizzo said.
‘‘If it’s there, it’s there,’’ Rizzo said. ‘‘Starting the game off 1-for-1 is a lot different than 0-for-1 trying to hit into a shift. I’ll make them pay if I can. It’s not that big of a deal, but if it’s there, it’s there.’’