Anthony Rizzo’s right foot was encased in a plastic medical boot, his bent knee pressed against the seat of a knee-walker scooter as he talked about the sprained ankle that “throbbed” but “could be worse.”
The Cubs first baseman is just the latest — and one of the biggest — names lost from the roster for the rest of the regular season as the Cubs try to finish the final two weeks of a playoff push that cynics suggest has yet to begin.
Barring a shocking recovery, Rizzo joins All-Star shortstop Javy Baez (broken thumb) among those out for the rest of the season, and potentially deep into October, if the Cubs get that far.
“Listen, my body usually responds well, so I’m certainly not ruling it out,” Rizzo said Monday after an MRI exam revealed what the team called a “moderate” lateral sprain that is not severe enough to require surgery. “I have every intention of trying to do everything I can with the training staff to get back on the field with the boys.
“I want to play as soon as possible, whether it’s now or Game 1 of the World Series.”
Rizzo will be in a walking boot for a week, after which he’ll be evaluated again, taking that process into the final week of the season.
With Baez already out, closer Craig Kimbrel on the shelf at least until this weekend’s series against the Cardinals and infielder Addison Russell on the concussion injured list until at least until Thursday, the Cubs’ tough road back to October got significantly steeper when Rizzo rolled his ankle charging a ball in the third inning Sunday.
“It’s going to be tough to be without Anthony for a while. He’s so important to everything we do on and off the field,” team president Theo Epstein said. “We’re not shutting any doors [on potential timelines], but we’re realistic that this is a legitimate injury that under ideal circumstances would take some time to heal.”
Victor Caratini, pitcher Yu Darvish’s personal catcher, started at first on Monday and is expected to get a bulk of the playing time when not catching Darvish. Ian Happ and catcher Jonathan Lucroy also could be in the mix, manager Joe Maddon said.
On their first day without Rizzo, the Cubs beat the Reds 8-2 for their fifth consecutive victory, keeping pace two games back of the Cardinals in the NL Central, closing to a half-game back of the Nationals for the top wild-card spot and staying one game ahead of the Brewers for the second wild-card spot.
After the game, Rizzo rolled into the clubhouse after treatment, honking the new bicycle horn he had on his scooter — which also sported a handlebar basket, tassels and a bell.
He rang his bell as he wheeled out of the clubhouse down a different hallway.
“You don’t replace an Anthony Rizzo or a Javy Baez,” said Ben Zobrist, who was back in the leadoff spot and at second base Monday and might be leaned on more often the final two weeks because of the injuries. “It’s just next guy jumps in there and does what he’s capable of doing.
“I don’t feel much pressure because everybody’s playing so well right now. I’ll just add what I can to the mix.”
In addition to the All-Star left-handed power bat, the Cubs are missing a Gold Glove fielder in Rizzo, whose ability to pick throws in the dirt and range for wide throws makes the rest of the infield better, too.
“When you’re an infielder throwing in that direction you feel pretty good about the fact the ball’s going to be caught,” Maddon said of what he called a “security blanket” effect. “Sometimes I think he goes undervalued in a sense. . . . But he is a bedrock. And he’s going to be missed.”
Never more than with Baez also gone. Never more than this critical crossroads of a crossroads season for many in the organization.
“When you get to the really tightly contested games this time of the year, the experience does matter. Their ability to slow things down matters,” Maddon said. Their ability to not be intimidated by any situation matters.
“You’re missing all that. But nobody’s going to cry for you.”
Said Epstein: “It’s a significant hurdle for the team, but it’s one that we certainly can overcome.”