Cubs

Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo: Slow start ‘tests who you are and your mental fortitude’

ATLANTA — The radio talk-show callers want to know what’s wrong with Anthony Rizzo and what the Cubs are going to do to fix it. The Twittersphere wants him benched for a few days, or simply ripped for his early-season hitting woes.

The Cubs want him to just keep doing what he’s doing.

“Physically, I feel great. Mentally, I feel great,” the Cubs first baseman said. “I go out prepared and pretty much locked in every day and every at-bat. But, obviously, the results aren’t there. That’s why you’re getting callers.”

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Hits have been so scarce for Anthony Rizzo this year, it's no wonder he got excited to find a Blooper during Thursday's delay before the game in Atlanta was rained out.

Despite a surge against the Marlins and White Sox last week, Rizzo’s production is the worst it has been in his career this late into a season. He’s hitting .195 with a .658 OPS, six home runs and only two other extra-base hits (both in the same game last week).

He’s in another 0-for-14 skid as the Cubs head to Cincinnati.

For all the talk about the Cubs’ feast-or-famine hitting this season and need for better approaches, the biggest, quickest difference-maker might be as simple as Rizzo becoming Rizzo again.

“Everybody knows it’s going to happen, just because the track record’s there, the work’s always there, the talent’s always there, too,” said Kris Bryant, who, by contrast, is off to the best start of his career. “There’s really no concern when it comes to him.

“Once he gets going, I think it’s really going to transform this team.”

Meanwhile, it has been a slow climb for Rizzo since an emotional opening weekend in South Florida, which was followed by back tightness that landed him on the disabled list.

Rizzo had a home run in the season opener March 29, then didn’t have an extra-base hit in April. He admits he started looking at his numbers on the scoreboard before at-bats and might be pressing at times.

“I’m human,” he said.

That might have been part of why he drew just four walks all season until drawing seven in the last six games, a sign he might be about to return to form.

Meanwhile, the number that stands out in neon when it comes to Rizzo’s woes is a ridiculously low .186 average on balls put into play, the third-worst mark in the majors.

“That’s a lot of bad luck,” said manager Joe Maddon, who already batted Rizzo leadoff in a game to help him relax and get him back on track.

“With guys like Anthony who are really good, the biggest thing there is to make him not try to do anything differently,” Maddon said. “Just permit the process to work its course. ‘You’re good; you’re really good. You’re going to get hot, and that number is going to balance out.’ ”

Until then, the Cubs wait for the arrival of the lefty half of the Bryzzo tandem the lineup is built around.

“I’m very, very, very confident that on Sept. 30 the numbers will be where they need to be,” said Rizzo, who has hit 31 or 32 homers in each of the last four years and driven in 101 or 109 runs in each of the last three. “And everything will even out. When you’re in this rut, you have to keep the big picture in mind.

“Obviously, you dig yourself a hole, it’s a lot harder to get out of. You really start testing who you are and your mental fortitude. It’s the way this game is. But no one really cares. You just deal with it, with your teammates and your coaches, and grind through it.”

Meanwhile, he understands the angst among fans.

His message to the callers?

“I’m a fan, too,” he said. “I’ve been a sports fan for a long time, my whole life. … I don’t know. ‘You’re welcome for a World Series?’ ”