6/18 Rizzo gets “breather”

On Tuesday, Game No. 69 of the season, Anthony Rizzo rested. The first baseman, who had started every Cubs game this season, was not in the lineup Tuesday against the Cardinals.

“It’s nice to get a breather,” said Rizzo, who was batting .157 this month, with two extra-base hits.

Rizzo hasn’t homered since May 18, and he’s 3-for-14 in the last four games, including 0-for-10 in his last three games. He was batting .241 overall.

“Last year, I had a couple days off, and came back like I normally am,” Rizzo said. “You’re going to have good times and bad times, and it’s one of the down times for myself personally. It’s frustrating. The game is beating me up a little bit. I think it’ll be nice to relax and enjoy the game from the bird’s eye.

“I feel real close,” he said. “It’s just a matter of trying to do too much.”

It’s been nearly one year since Rizzo was promoted from Triple-A Iowa — he made his Cubs debut last June 26 — and one has to wonder if pitchers have figured him out. Cubs manager Dale Sveum said part of the problem is opponents have a better sample size for their scouting reports and part of it is Rizzo’s mechanics.

“Once you get a decent sample, the other teams know he’s vulnerable to this or vulnerable to that, but the bottom line is we all know hitting comes down to when you get a good pitch, do something with it,” Sveum said. “Just like [Starlin] Castro, you see him get a lot of good pitches but there are a lot of foul balls back to the screen. You’re putting the at-bat in the pitcher’s hand once you’ve missed his mistake or two mistakes in an at-bat. It’s not like Major League pitchers make three [mistakes] in an at-bat. You become vulnerable when you’re not hitting mistakes.”

Rizzo said pitchers are making him become even more patient at the plate.

“With the struggles going on, I’m still taking my walks,” he said. “It’s a matter of being patient and getting my pitch. I’ve gotten my pitches, and I’m not doing any damage with them.”

Sveum dropped Rizzo to the fifth spot in the batting order on Friday, and will likely keep the first baseman there. That’s OK with Rizzo, who had batted third in 61 games, and hit fourth in three games.

“I personally like hitting in the five hole,” Rizzo said. “There are a lot more RBI opportunities there, and that’s what my job is, to drive in runs, but I also love the three-hole. I love hitting in front of [Alfonso Soriano] and getting on in front of him. It doesn’t really matter. I think once everything gets going again, I’ll be back in the three-hole. Wherever Dale wants to put me, he’s the boss.”

Nate Schierholtz has been the Cubs most consistent hitter lately, and has taken over the No. 3 spot for now.

Could part of Rizzo’s problem be the new seven-year, $41 million contract extension he signed May 13? Since that date, he’s batting .195 with one home run, nine doubles and 11 RBIs.

“I personally think that’s all outside noise,” Rizzo said. “My contract doesn’t kick in until three years from now, to be honest. I put a lot of pressure on myself to perform, it’s baseball, I’m a competitor. No matter what I do, I want to win. In baseball, you fail most of the time, and it’s a little frustrating. It’s part of the game and understanding this will beat you up.”

– Carrie Muskat

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