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Anthony Rizzo earns rave reviews from offseason workout mate Joey Votto

Updated: June 23, 2014 11:49PM



Heads up for anyone thinking Anthony Rizzo is a poor man’s Joey Votto: Don’t try to sell that load of stuff to Votto.

The Cincinnati Reds’ four-time All-Star first baseman said it’s the other way around.

“He’s been a stud this year, an All-Star-caliber guy this year,” said Votto, the 2010 National League MVP. “He and I aren’t in the same league. He has played fantastic this year.”

Rizzo’s season is taking on the appearance of a breakout year for the young first baseman, with the kind of patience, lofty on-base numbers and left-handed power that make him look a lot like the Reds first baseman — and the player the Cubs envisioned when they committed a seven-year contract to him last year.

Rizzo went 2-for-4 with a home run in the Cubs’ 6-1 loss to the Reds on Monday at Wrigley Field. His homer in the sixth, his 16th of the season, tied the score at 1. But Hector Rondon allowed five runs in the ninth, four on Devin Mesoraco’s grand slam.

Maybe it’s no coincidence that for the first time Votto and Rizzo worked out together in the off-season. They joined mutual friend Casey Kelly, a pitcher with the San Diego Padres, for about a week in Sarasota, Florida, in January.

“We spent most of the week playing pickup football and ­swimming,” Votto said. “Most of it was pickup football.”

OK, so maybe it is a coincidence.

But it was the first time the two had gotten a chance to know each other away from a few minutes at a time around first base when their teams have faced each other. And Rizzo said there was at least a little baseball work involved.

Regardless, the Votto impersonation act is hard to miss in Rizzo this year.

Votto has led the league in walks three times and on-base percentage each of the last four seasons, along with a .536 career slugging percentage.

Entering Monday, Votto (.410) and Rizzo (.398) ranked fourth and sixth in the league in OBP, and Rizzo was ­second in the league with 48 walks. Votto, who missed almost three weeks with a knee injury, also was in the top five.

“At his young age, he’s still growing into who he is and what he possibly can be,” Cubs hitting coach Bill Mueller said of Rizzo, who might be getting somet

hing out of time spent with the new staff, too. “If you want to try and model yourself to someone in the league, Votto’s been in that top tier, and Rizzo is climbing and trying to establish himself as someone like that every single season. He has the capabilities of doing that.”

Maybe it will lead to a first All-Star selection for Rizzo. Maybe even a Gold Glove, to hear Votto talk.

“What goes probably most underrated is how good he is defensively,” Votto said. “I’d call him probably the best first baseman, maybe in the game, probably in the National League. He’s excellent. He’s very, very underrated in that regard.”

For now, Rizzo enjoys the compliments. “To be compared to him is definitely an honor,” he said.

And keeps pushing. “I’ve got to keep it up.”

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com

Twitter: @GDubCub



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