The Cubs have started to play better baseball over the last three weeks and some of that has to do with the team getting healthier.
But they’ll now have to deal with another injury, at least in the short term, as first baseman Anthony Rizzo left Tuesday’s 6-3 victory against the Nationals with lower back tightness.
Rizzo grounded out to first baseman Ryan Zimmerman to end the third inning, but when he came out on defense, there was clearly something wrong.
“Just some low back tightness,” manager David Ross said after the win. “Just a little slip coming out of the box and kind of tweaked his back.”
Before starter Zach Davies could make his first pitch in the fourth inning, time was called as Rizzo was trying to stretch his back out and get loose. Manager David Ross and assistant athletic trainer Nick Frangella immediately came out to check on Rizzo, but after a lengthy conversation, he stayed in the game.
“I just asked him if he needed to come out,” Ross said. “I think he was trying to see if it was going to loosen up a little bit. I went down just to check on him [between innings] and trainers were working on him. . . . They said he was unavailable.”
Ironically, on the next play, Kyle Schwarber ripped a sharp groundball to Rizzo, but on a ball that the four-time Gold Glove award winner fields cleanly, he struggled to get down to make a play as the ball caromed off his glove.
Rizzo was clearly in some discomfort and when the Cubs returned to the field in the fifth, Ross removed him from the game with Kris Bryant moving to first base. The 31-year-old first baseman has a lengthy history of back problems over his 11-year career. Rizzo dealt with some back issues before the 60-game season in 2020.
If Rizzo is forced to miss any time, Bryant likely would take over at first base. But Bryant had a good report on Rizzo following the win.
“I told him. I said, ‘Hey, get out of this game. I want to play first. I want to play everywhere,’” Bryant joked after the game. “I was just I just went down and I told him, ‘Hey, like I can play for you. Please don’t do anything stupid. We need you for the long haul.’ He’s had back trouble before, but I kinda talked to him, he’s in good spirits.”
The Cubs were close to full strength with Nico Hoerner and Ian Happ returning from the injured list last week.
While Rizzo’s injury put a damper Tuesday evening for the Cubs, it didn’t stop them from keeping up their winning ways. As has often been the case over the last two weeks, it was the Cubs’ offense that carried them.
The Nationals tied the game at 2-2 in the fifth inning thanks to RBI singles by Trea Turner and Ryan Zimmerman. But Bryant had an RBI single to make it 3-2 in the bottom of the fifth. Castro tagged Davies for a solo shot in the sixth that tied the game at 3-3.
David Bote crushed a 407-foot two-run shot in the sixth for a 5-3 lead. Center fielder Ian Happ added a solo shot in the eighth.
The bullpen continued to be lights out and closed out the game after Davies’ departure in the sixth inning with Keegan Thompson, Justin Steele, Dan Winkler and Craig Kimbrel closing the door.
“They’ve been big,” Ross said. “‘I’ve pulled the trigger at times and these guys continue to step up. They picked us up early on when we weren’t getting a lot of length and they continue to come in, know their matchups, know why they’re in the game. They’re prepared, getting right after hitters and they haven’t buckled under pressure.”