Rizzo's big night makes up for bad memory

April, 9, 2014
Apr 9
11:35
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jason Hammel might want to give Anthony Rizzo a break.

Rizzo tied a career high with four hits in a 7-5 Cubs win over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday night, and in his exuberance he forgot about Hammel’s first start of the season last week.

“I have to throw my first baseman under the bus,” Hammel joked after the game. “He just congratulated me on my first National League win. Just make sure everyone knows Rizzo was not there in Pittsburgh last week.”

[+] EnlargeAnthony Rizzo
Brian Kersey/Getty ImagesAnthony Rizzo keyed the Cubs' victory against the Pirates by tying a career high with four hits.
Hammel beat the Pirates last Thursday. He beat them again on Wednesday, and Rizzo had a big hand in it. It’s not just that Rizzo had four hits; it’s that all four went to left or center. He pulled nothing against the exaggerated shift the Pirates employed against him.

“It’s early, you can’t press,” Rizzo said. “It’s a long season and you just have to keep going through the grind.”

Rizzo likes to talk about the finer points of his hitting like he’s having a root canal.

“See the ball, hit the ball,” is the best you can get out of him.

But there’s little doubt this is a different Rizzo than we saw a year ago. His ability to go the opposite way -- especially against left-handed pitching -- started in spring training. Now it’s carrying over – even if he can’t explain why.

“Two weeks of this isn’t going to make or break your season,” Rizzo said as he raised his batting average 79 points. “It’s just nice to back up some hits early.”

His best at-bat of the night came in the fifth inning of a 1-1 game. With two outs and nobody on, Rizzo got down 0-2 to Pirates southpaw starter Wandy Rodriguez. The inning looked like it would be an easy one for Rodriguez. But then he took two balls and fouled one more off before singling to left center. The next two batters hit home runs and the Cubs never looked back.

“It was good just because [Mike] Olt hit that homer,” Rizzo said. “Two outs, two strikes, he’s one pitch away from getting out of the inning. You have to keep the line moving.”

Rizzo kept the line moving and then some. He is 6-for-17 against left-handed pitching so far this season, but, again, he can’t explain why.

“It’s just hitting the ball,” he said. “See it and hit it.”

As far as forgetting about Hammel’s win last week in Pittsburgh, Rizzo probably didn’t realize Hammel threw for Colorado from 2009-2011, where he won 27 games in the NL. This was hardly his first.

“I was excited,” Rizzo said sarcastically. “We had a great atmosphere in here after the game. We got him the W. He’s off to a great 2-0 start.”

Rizzo’s big night helped Hammel to win No. 2. -- even if Rizzo didn’t realize it.

Jesse Rogers | email

Chicago Cubs beat reporter
Jesse joined ESPN Chicago in September 2009 and covers the Chicago Cubs for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN Radio 1000.

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TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
Jason Hammel
WINS ERA SO IP
8 2.98 104 108
OTHER LEADERS
BAA. Rizzo .284
HRA. Rizzo 25
RBIA. Rizzo 55
RA. Rizzo 70
OPSA. Rizzo .924
ERAJ. Samardzija 2.83
SOJ. Hammel 104