Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo has quietly set thermostat for simmering lineup

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Rizzo hits sixth homer of the season, a solo shot off Jimmy Nelson in Friday’s fourth inning.

MILWAUKEE – Maybe he’s not the most underrated guy on this team.

But Anthony Rizzo might be the most overlooked since Kris Bryant and Addison Russell started stealing all the headlines and fan gazing since their heralded arrivals the last few weeks.

If so, it won’t be for long at this rate.

While manager Joe Maddon shuffles rookies Bryant and Jorge Soler around the lefty-hitting All-Star first baseman, to get the most out of the Rizzo ripple effect in the lineup, Rizzo remains oblivious and just keeps producing.

His rocket-shot homer into the right-field upper deck at Miller Park Friday night opened a three-run fourth, and his one-out single in the eighth drove home a big insurance run in the Cubs’ 7-6 victory over the Brewers in a series opener the bullpen made close.

“He’s just really good right now,” manager Joe Maddon said. “I think he’s one of the top-five best at-bats in all of baseball.”

The Cubs have been talking for more than a week about when they’ll start hitting all the home runs they expect this lineup to produce this year, and maybe that day was Friday – when Dexter Fowler, Soler and Castro all added longballs on a four-homer night for the Cubs.

But whatever hitting production they get from here, Rizzo has been the understated pace-setter to get the lineup this far with enough production to help keep the Cubs above .500 five weeks into the season.

Five games into a seven-game road trip through St. Louis and Milwaukee, he’s 8-for-22 (.364) with three homers, two doubles and six RBIs.

“At-bat per at-bat this guy is engaged in every pitch. Every pitch,” Maddon said. “He doesn’t give anything away at any time. He’s one of the few major league players that has a legitimate two-strike approach, something I’ve always preached in the past [as a hitting coach]. It’s hard to get guys to do it, but he has a legitimate two-strike plan, which is really beautiful to watch.

“He concedes, he doesn’t try to do too much, he makes adjustments, and that’s why he’s good at it.”

Rizzo has reached base at least twice in four of the five games during the trip, and entered play Friday ranked third in the National League with a .458 on-base percentage and ninth in slugging (.568).

But don’t ask him what he’s doing at the plate, how much is an extension of last year or the fact that he’s seeing fewer strikes this year than anyone else in the league.

“I honestly have no idea, and I’m not going to look into it,” He said. “It’s just baseball. I don’t want to think too much into it.

“People are going to write good things now, and obviously I just want to keep playing.”

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