Rizzo leads Cubs to win in debut
CHICAGO – The long-awaited Anthony Rizzo era finally kicked off Tuesday, and it is off to a rousing start.
With all eyes on the top prospect, the 22-year-old first baseman didn’t disappoint in his Cubs debut Tuesday in front of 34,064 fans at Wrigley Field. A calm, cool and collected Rizzo delivered a clutch two-out double that drove in the go-ahead run in the Cubs’ 5-3 win against the New York Mets.
“He didn’t act like a kid tonight,” manager Dale Sveum said. “That was pretty impressive.”
Rizzo wasted no time collecting his first Cubs hit, albeit a controversial one in his first at-bat on a hard-hit grounder that was originally ruled an error. By night’s end, after a stellar all-around effort, Rizzo received a post-game shaving cream pie to the face. All in a day’s work for the newest Cub.
“That’s how I play the game, I play really relaxed,” Rizzo said. “Everyone always tells me it looks like you’re not even trying. I like hearing that a lot. Just try not to hype it up, hype myself up too much and get too riled up.”
It’s hard to avoid the hype surrounding Rizzo. His arrival not only brings excitement about the future but adds a sorely-needed power bat to a struggling Cubs lineup.
Sveum had no qualms penciling Rizzo in the No. 3 spot, where he finished 2 for 4, ahead of big hitters Alfonso Soriano and Bryan LaHair.
“You see with everything that’s going on today, how much pressure is taken off a lot of people,” Sveum said. “Unfortunately, it’s put on him. I think he’s the kind of guy, obviously he came up last year, and had some tough times. That’s why we like him so much, we think he can handle a lot and he’s going to be in this lineup for a long time.”
Rizzo welcomes the pressure that comes with his call-up, and he isn’t worried about any savior label.
The expectations on the North side aren’t much different than what he faced last year during 49 games with an awful and run-starved offense in San Diego.
“I was the savior last year, too, and that’s why I think it’s easier this year to come up,” Rizzo said. “Hopefully, this is just a building block of what is here to come in the city and the organization.”
The Cubs firmly believe all of their minor leaguers must earn call-ups at every level, especially when it comes to making that final step and joining the big league club. It was no different for Rizzo, whose outstanding production at Triple-A Iowa forced the Cubs’ hand.
“He went down there put up as good of numbers as any player in the minor leagues, and I think that’s the way it should be,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “Players shouldn’t be promoted in the minor leagues based on draft status, based on trades.
“I don’t think we could look our players in the eye if Anthony hit .250 with nine homers and we promoted him to the big leagues. What are we saying to the rest of the organization?”
Rizzo joins All-Star shortstop Starlin Castro as the main foundation for the organization’s future, and Hoyer hopes the Brett Jacksons and Josh Vitters of the Cubs’ system aren’t too far behind. Of course, they must prove they are ready for the next challenge.
However, amid the Cubs’ awful season and their worst record in baseball Rizzo and the youngsters provide excitement and optimism.
After a productive half season at Iowa last season, his first Triple-A experience, Jackson was expected to join the Cubs’ outfield some point this season. But Jackson’s inability to make contact has derailed those plans. His 110 strikeouts in 74 games lead the Pacific Coast League – 33 more than the next player.
“Brett can determine his own future by just dominating down there and forcing our hand,” Hoyer said. “I hope he does that. He’s a really good talent. He has a great future ahead of him.”
Vitters, who was bypassed when the Cubs needed a third baseman due to Ian Stewart’s injury, is thriving in his first season at Iowa. Still only 22, the Cubs’ 2007 first round pick is hitting .291 with 12 homers and 39 RBIs in 74 games. Hoyer said the Cubs “don’t need to upset the apple cart” by rushing him and thus destroying his progress. The Cubs are content to employ the Rizzo plan for their top prospects.
Even if Jackson and Vitters don’t earn the big league call-up this season, it’s clear that the future is now for the Cubs.
“It’s really about collecting a lot of players like this and putting them on the field together,” Hoyer said. “Not just one, along with Castro and hopefully a lot of other guys that we can get on the field at the same time and really create a really great, young organization.
“Fans love home grown players more than anything because I think they relate to them in the minor leagues and they know they can root for them for a long time. … I like the fact they’re excited.”
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