Cubs notebook: Rizzo not flustered by shift, Rondon ready

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Anthony Rizzo doubles against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Friday (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Anthony Rizzo refuses to give into frustration when would-be hits fall prey to an opposing defense that shifts to guard against his strengths.

By manager Joe Maddon’s math, Rizzo – who was hitting .239 before Friday’s 6-0 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks – would be hitting 25-30 points higher if not for way teams defend against him. Maddon said as much Friday morning.

So when Rizzo laced a liner up the middle in the first inning after Kris Bryant had doubled – only to have a well-placed defender turn it into a groundout – the Cubs’ first baseman could only shake his head.

“You get taught to hit the ball up the middle your whole life,” Rizzo said. “So you hit the ball up the middle and there’s a guy standing there. What are you going to do about it?”

On Friday, Rizzo responded.

Rizzo’s RBI sixth-inning double that Diamondbacks’ centerfielder Chris Owings misplayed, broke a scoreless tie. Rizzo lined the fly ball that Owings first broke in on only to see it fly over his head, which allowed Jason Heyward to score from first.

Rizzo finished the day 2-for-3 with a walk – all after losing what likely would have been a first-inning RBI single to a defensive shift he he can’t do anything about. When he saw Owings misplay his sixth-inning double, Rizzo admitted to being surprised to how things played out.

“It’s baseball,” he said. “They said it evens out so you just have to stick with it.”

Rondon Ready

 After struggling with back stiffness this week that kept him from pitching, closer Hector Rondon was not only prepared to pitch on Friday, but was on the verge of being ready.

“(Thursday) I felt really good,” Rondon said before Friday’s game. “Today I feel much better.”

After Pedro Strop worked a scoreless eighth inning with the Cubs leading 1-0, Rondon began to warm-up in the bullpen expecting to get a chance at his 10th save.

But when Javier Baez lined a two-run double to center field, Rondon immediately sat down, understanding he would no longer be needed. Justin Grimm instead worked the ninth and got closed out the victory with back-to-back strikeouts after giving up a lead-off double to Paul Goldschmidt.

 Defensive Flexibility

Maddon again shifted his defensive look on Friday, giving Addison Russell most of the day off at shortstop before inserting him in the seventh inning. Baez got the start at shortstop with Tommy La Stella moving to third in place of Bryant, who started in left field. After Russell – who had an RBI double Friday after going 0-for-9 over the past three games – entered the game, Baez moved to third as Maddon continued to take advantage of having plenty of interchangeable parts in his lineup. The flexibility, he said, allows him to give players days off more often.

Second baseman Ben Zobrist, who got an off-day Thursday against the Dodgers returned to the line-up Friday and went 0-for-2 with two intentional walks.

“It’s unusual to alter your middle infielders as much as we do and feel good about it,” Maddon said.

Follow me on Twitter @JeffArnold_

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