CHICAGO – As great as Darwin Barney's defense has been at second base this season for the Chicago Cubs, it hasn’t hurt him to have what appears to be a future Gold Glove winner backing him up at first base.
Anthony Rizzo is just 23, but plays defense well beyond his years. Friday’s game was the perfect example as he saved Barney from making an error by picking the second baseman’s throw from shallow right field just off the top of the dirt and then searching for the bag with his feet as he was sprawled out on the ground.
Had the ball gotten past Rizzo or had he been unable to find the bag, Barney’s current 136-game streak of error-free baseball at second base would be over.
“At that age you’re not going to see too many guys who slow the game down like he does,” manager Dale Sveum said of Rizzo’s defense. “The key to defense is just not panicking, understanding and being able to slow the situation down. You don’t just always get the routine ball, you get different things in different scenarios and he’s able to slow the game down.”
Natural instincts and a calm demeanor seem to suggest that defense has come naturally for Rizzo. And while he might have a knack for it, it hasn’t stopped him from working hard at the craft.
“It’s no secret; everybody knows I like to play good defense and help out,” Rizzo said. “If I’m lazy out there, there is no way I make that play for Barney. I just want to be prepared every day and be in good position.”
Whether or not he has set his sights on a Gold Glove one day, he wasn’t saying.
“If it comes it comes, if not it doesn’t,” Rizzo said. “I’m just worried about helping out the three other infielders.”
As a former shortstop, Sveum knows the value of an upper echelon defensive first baseman and sees that in Rizzo. And Sveum doesn’t have the same reservations when it comes to prediction future gold for his rookie.
“No doubt about it,” Sveum said. “Him and Barney work as hard as anybody on their defense. It will pay off and as soon as he gets some time in this league he should win some Gold Gloves.”
The first goal is to get Barney some hardware when the Gold Glove winners are announced this winter.
“(Barney) plays fearless and makes throws all the time that are bang-bang and if they’re not right on, they’re close; it’s awesome,” Rizzo said. “It’s to his credit. That’s how he plays and why he should win the Gold Glove in my opinion. He plays so fearless and not worried about making things look flashy or good he’s just worried about making the play.”
That sounds like a knock on reigning National League second-base Gold Glove winner Brandon Phillips, who tends to get more style points than Barney. It means that while talking about defense, Rizzo went on the offensive.
Rizzo won’t hide the fact that he is emotionally vested in Barney’s Gold Glove chances.
“Every play that he gets the ball, my heart starts racing a little bit more just because I get a little extra ready for him,” Rizzo said. “I try to get to the bag a little quicker so I can be in position. I don’t really need to with his throws. Yesterday he bounced one but usually he throws at my chest anyway.”
Sveum calls Rizzo a “no heart-rate guy,” but it’s clear the kid does have a rapid pulse going on, he’s just good at ignoring it.
“Rizzo is a two-way player, we all know that the way he’s been able to play first base and pick balls and stretch,” Sveum said. “He’s a no-panic guy at first base and that means a lot. He’s meant a lot to the whole defense and he’s only going to get better at that position. It’s nice to know we have guys on that infield who will be here for a while, catch the ball and swing the bats as well.”