Rizzo takes hits for the Cubs, and it hurts so good

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Franklin Font is Anthony Rizzo’s everyday batting-practice pitcher, and the answer is no.

“I have never hit him in BP,’’ Font said, laughing.

That’s something of a miracle because the Cubs’ left-handed-hitting slugger hugs the plate as if it were a slow-dance partner. With his left foot almost on the inside and back lines of the batter’s box, he is basically asking someone to hit him with a baseball.

Left-handed pitchers often do.

When the Cardinals’ Tim Cooney hit him Tuesday night, it was the 18th time Rizzo had been plunked this year, a franchise record in the post-1900 era. And there’s still half a season to go.

Rizzo is tired of talking about getting hit, but come on. It’s like an artist not wanting to talk about paint. Last season, pitchers hit him 15 times. This season, he leads the majors in the category.

“So proud of it,’’ he said mockingly of the record. “I mean, I got hit. It’s not fun, but it is what it is. That’s all I have to say.’’

If it makes him feel any better (in lieu of anti-inflammatories), it’s not fun pitching to someone who stands so close to the plate.

“It’s definitely tough because you don’t have a lot of room for error pitching in,’’ Cooney said. “I hit him with a curveball. It makes it a little more challenging because you can’t miss in as much. With a lot of guys, you have some room for error. For him, you don’t.

“But at the same time, there’s going to be a weakness with him doing that. I feel like if you put a pitch really in there (tight), it’s going to be really hard for him to hit. The next at-bat, I threw a curveball that started at him and went over the plate. If you can execute it, it should work.’’

When Cubs catcher Miguel Montero was with the Diamondbacks, he told all his pitchers the same thing about dealing with Rizzo.

“If we’re going to go in, just go in. If we hit him, we hit him,’’ he said Wednesday. “That’s it. Simple as that. That’s his place, and if you’re not going to move, I’m going to hit you. Let’s see next time if you’re going to get close again or if you’re going to get off the plate a little bit more.

“He’s on top of the dish. Literally, he’s on top of the dish so he doesn’t give the pitcher much room to make a pitch inside. When they try to go in, it’s tight. … It’s one of the hardest pitches to make – a good located fastball in.’’

Pitchers don’t want to leave the ball over the middle of the plate against Rizzo, but the problem is that even outside pitches are in his wheelhouse because he stands so close. So inside is the way to go.

The major-league record for getting hit by a pitch in a season is 50, set by Montreal’s Ron Hunt in 1971. He had the pleasure of being hit four times that season by heat-throwing Nolan Ryan.

Records are meant to be broken, but the same can be said of bones. Some of the Cubs do worry about that with Rizzo.

“Of course, because he’s a big part of the team,’’ Montero said. “He’s been literally carrying this team by himself. You don’t want to miss him. That being said, he’s got to look at the other side too. If they make a mistake, they’re going to pay for it. He feels comfortable there, so you can’t really change it. You just have to wear it. He knows that.’’

Speaking of wearing it, Rizzo doesn’t wear any body armor to protect himself from baseballs. Those elbow pads that could double as pillows? They’re for others, not the Cubs first baseman.

“He has not cried,’’ manager Joe Maddon said. “He doesn’t point fingers. He’s been fine.’’

You’d think Maddon would be advocating for military grade body armor for Rizzo, who is headed to the All-Star Game, thanks to his .407 on-base percentage, his 16 home runs and his 48 runs batted in. You’d think he would want some protection for a hitter he is certain has been thrown at on purpose “once or twice’’ this season. But Maddon clearly likes the toughness involved.

“He’s just up there ready to rock,’’ he said. “I’m not saying he shouldn’t (wear body armor). If he ever wanted to, I don’t think that’s a sign of anything.’’

For what it’s worth, Cooney is impressed by anyone willing to do what Rizzo does, which means he’s also impressed by crash-test dummies.

“It’s pretty mentally tough for someone like that to stay in there, because he knows he’s going to get hit,’’ the Cardinals rookie said. “A pitcher who lets a fastball rip up and in, he’s going to have trouble getting out of the way. If he wants to do that, it’s his right. He’s in the batter’s box.’’

Font will be Rizzo’s pitcher in the Home Run Derby on Monday. He throws right-handed and grooves fastballs, so expect lots of long balls and no HBPs.

“We’re looking to compete,’’ Font said. “I want to win. Everything we do in this game is for that. But have a good time too.’’

And keep everyone healthy.


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