If weve learned anything about the Cubs in recent days its how much duct tape, ingenuity and faith might be needed to keep a starting rotation intact, much less competitive as a 60-game season gets underway.
Which makes the progress of three-time All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo in recent days especially important for the Cubs, who now seem assured of having their lineup at full strength for Fridays opener.
Its obvious, but I cant say enough about him being in the lineup and our success that goes along with that, manager David Ross said of the lefty slugger who bats second in Ross lineup behind Kris Bryant.
Rizzo, who has battled what has typically been an annual case of back inflammation over the past week, passed his latest test Tuesday, taking at-bats against teammate Tyler Chatwood in a simulated game situation and is expected to start Wednesday nights final exhibition game, against the Twins, barring a setback overnight.
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I dont want to put the cart before the horse, said Ross, who plans to make the final decision after Rizzos evaluated again Wednesday morning. But he took some great swings, said the felt ready and doesnt think things will have an issue for the [Twins] game.
Its hard to overstate the value of an intact and productive Cubs lineup to the teams hopes in a short season, especially for a team that already had its fingers crossed when it came to its pitching depth before projected fourth starter Jose Quintana was sidelined with a thumb injury.
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Add to that the fact Jon Lester is behind the other pitchers in camp, and it pushes Chatwood from fifth to third in the rotation and leaves little to no margin for further injury or underachievement.
If that raises the stakes on a healthy lineup for the Cubs, then it makes Rizzo’s return the second-most important news of summer training camp second only to the zero positive tests for COVID-19 among players since intake testing began.
His resume speaks for itself, Ross said. And just what he represents about the at-bats we want to have. These guys made some strong comments in spring training about the at-bats that we want to have as a team, and what we want to represent, and Anthony is a big part of that.
The Cubs ranked 20th in the majors last year in pitches per plate appearance and struck out more than most teams but ranked in the top 10 in both runs per game (5.02) and on-base percentage (.331).
Rizzo, one of only two Cubs who saw more than the league average of pitches per PA in 2019 (also Kyle Schwarber), is a key part of the lineup when it comes to all of those team stats.
He also led a team expected to have six former All-Stars in Fridays lineup with a .924 OPS last year.
He sets the example. He sets a tone, Ross said. Hes a great player; hes an All-Star. His energys been missed in the dugout.
Ross didn’t rule out using Rizzo in the designated hitter role at times early in the season if it seems like he needs a day of half duty during the Cubs’ opening stretch of 17 games in 17 days.
“You dont want to take a platinum glove off first base,” Ross said. “But if we have to, well adjust.”
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