17 pitches and a cloud of dust: Anthony Rizzo’s marathon at-bat ignites Cub rout

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Rizzo during his 17-pitch at-bat in the first inning Tuesday.

PHOENIX – How does a lineout to the shortstop for the second out of the first inning ignite a 9-1 rout when it doesn’t so much as advance a runner?

When it comes on the 17th pitch of an at-bat, and Javy Baez is on deck licking his chops while watching every changeup, curve ball and fastball thrown to Anthony Rizzo.

By the time Baez stepped in Tuesday night against Diamondbacks spot starter Matt Andriese, it took two changeups out of the zone for Baez to get the slider he was looking for – and to drive it over the wall in right-center for his 33rd home run and a quick 2-0 lead.

On a strict pitch limit, Andriese had burned half his pitch count by then and lasted only two innings – good for five Cubs runs – as the Cubs cruised to their fifth victory in six games.

“That set up the homer,” manager Joe Maddon said of Rizzo’s at-bat – which started with a called strike, followed by five consecutive foul balls before he took a curve ball in the dirt for Ball 1.

“That set up Javy’s home run, there’s no question,” Maddon said. “Normally when you see a guy working an at-bat like that something good follows for your team offensively. And we mentioned it to Rizz.”

The bigger question is whether that at-bat that ignited the Cubs’ biggest scoring splurge since Aug. 26 will turn out to be a turning point for a strong finish for the Cubs lineup – which returned Jason Heyward from a hamstring injury Tuesday and which finally includes a Kris Bryant who actually looks like prime-time Kris Bryant at the plate.

“Everything’s trending in the right direction,” said Rizzo, whose Cubs reopened a 3½ game lead over second place Milwaukee with 11 to play. “But every day we’ve got to go out and Javy needs to be Javy, Kris needs to be Kris – guys need to be themselves and put really good at-bats together. And the more we do that, the greater our chance of success.”

The sequence of pitches Rizzo saw at the plate, with Baez looking over his shoulder from the on-deck circle, went like this: fastball, slider, curve, fastball, curve, slider, curve, slider, curve, curve, fastball, changeup, curve, fastball, changeup, slider, curve.

After the first ball on the seventh pitch, Andriese threw to first to send runner Daniel Murphy back to the bag.

Then the rest of the at-bat went like this: ball, throw to first, errant throw to first by the catcher (Murphy to third), foul ball, foul ball, foul ball, foul ball, foul ball, foul ball, ball 3, foul ball, hard line drive to Nick Ahmed shifted to the middle.

“Obviously as good an at-bat as it was, you would love for that ball to sneak through,” Rizzo said. “But when you wear pitchers out like that we stress all the time, it’s up to the next guy, and the next guy, and the next guy.”

Baez had the full book on Andriese by the time he stepped in the box.

“The mix to Rizz was all over the place – curve ball, fastball changeup, all of it,” Baez said. “He’s still got to throw a pitch [to hit] to someone. We got [Ben] Zobrist behind me, so it was tough [for Andriese]. I was just trying to see the ball good.”

Andriese, whose longest outing this year was 3 1/3 innings, was gassed by the time six more Cubs batted in the second, producing doubles by Heyward and Ian Happ, and a two-run homer by Murphy.

“Overall we really worked good at-bats,” Maddon said.

The Cubs improved to 18-10 during this stretch of 30 scheduled games in 30 days, which ends Wednesday.

“It’s been a tough stretch, but we’ve done a really good job of being ready to play that day with whatever we had that day,” Rizzo said. “[Wednesday’s] a big game. With the off day after that, it’s easy to look past that game. We’ve got to make sure we’re ready.”

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