SAN DIEGO — The Cubs were running out of time to complete a comeback Wednesday against the Padres in the eighth inning when first baseman Alfonso Rivas stepped up to the plate with the bases loaded.
He drove a go-ahead, two-run single into center field.
The night before, he hit a game-tying, two-run homer with his family in the stands.
“It’s just great that they’re even here, watching me play,” said Rivas, who’s from the San Diego area. “And the success that I did have these past couple days, it means a lot. It means a lot to me, it means a lot to them.”
Rivas, batting .289 with 10 RBI to start the season, has quickly become a fan favorite coming off his 2021 debut. He made an impression early on, even with inconsistent at-bats. As the Cubs hit a roster crunch last month, they sent Rivas down to Triple-A for less than a week in favor of much-needed pitching depth.
Since being recalled, Rivas has factored more heavily into the team’s plans. The Cubs were confident enough in his play to option first baseman Frank Schwindel to Triple-A on Sunday to work through a slump — even though they recalled Schwindel the next day as IL moves and injuries began to pile up.
“He’s a great hitter,” catcher Willson Contreras said of Rivas. “From Day 1 that I met him, I knew he was going to be something special. His approach is really good, his swing is really good and his strike zone is also really good.”
Rivas’ glove has been as notable as his bat. With a runner on second in the sixth inning of the Cubs’ 5-4 loss Tuesday, Jurickson Profar hit a sharp line drive up the first-base line, but Rivas made a diving stop to save a run.
Rivas, who also plays outfield, hadn’t played much first base until his junior year at the University of Arizona — coincidentally, Arizona is the Cubs’ next stop on this road trip. And he didn’t consider his defense at first to be a strong suit until 2019, when he worked with infield coordinator Juan Navarrete in the A’s minor-league system.
“You’re so close, you’re probably involved in most of the plays,” Rivas said of the biggest transition to first base, “so just mentally being locked into every pitch.”
Rivas’ positional flexibility is also valuable for the Cubs. Though the team entered the season with plenty of outfield depth, Michael Hermosillo went on the 10-day IL this week with a left quadriceps strain. And right fielder Seiya Suzuki has been out of the starting lineup the last two games with right ankle soreness.
The outfield, however, is no longer his primary position.
“I think his position’s first base. That’s where he really stands out to me,” manager David Ross said. “He’s really smooth over there, very athletic, great hands, something calming about him over there. No matter how hard the ball’s hit or how slow, it looks like he’s running at the same pace [with] everything he does.
“So got a lot of confidence in him defensively.”
Between Rivas, who bats lefty and is hitting .324 against right-handed pitchers, and the right-handed Schwindel, Ross has the flexibility to play matchups.
Against the Padres, Rivas pinch-hit in the first game of the series against reliever Dinelson Lamet, drawing a walk. Rivas started at first base the next two games, when the Padres started right-handers, setting Rivas up for hometown heroics.
“It’s so cool when things like that line up,” shortstop Nico Hoerner said. “I just think that’s who he is as a baseball player, one of those guys that has always had a lot of confidence and is just very even-keel.”
CUBS AT DIAMONDBACKS
Friday: Drew Smyly (1-3, 3.04 ERA) vs. Zach Davies (1-1, 3.34), 8:40 p.m., Apple TV+, 670-AM.
Saturday: Kyle Hendricks (2-3, 4.38) vs. Zac Gallen (2-0, 0.95), 7:10 p.m., Marquee, 670-AM.
Sunday: TBD vs. Humberto Castellanos (2-1, 4.32), 3:10 p.m., Marquee, 670-AM.