Just like everyone else in the world, Chicago Cubs first baseman and fan favorite Anthony Rizzo is stuck at home, as the COVID-19 outbreak continues to sideline Major League Baseball for the foreseeable future.
But the three-time MLB All-Star says he’s staying fit, watching past games on video to improve his form, and that he’ll be ready for the season whenever baseball gets the green light.
I spoke with Rizzo last week, by phone, on a drab, chilly day in Chicago. The Sunshine State native said he misses Cubs baseball but wasn’t too broken up about being nowhere near Wrigley Field, or at least the North Side’s weather.
“I’m at home, down in sunny South Florida, but I don’t mean to rub that in,” Rizzo said. “It’s a strange time. I’m working out at home, trying to stay ready to go when baseball starts again soon.”
When asked about the National League and fellow competitors in 2020, Rizzo, an eight-year Cubs veteran mentioned the team Cubs had to beat in order to reach (and eventually win) the 2016 World Series.
“The Dodgers have been on an incredible run of success for the last seven to ten years. Just the way they’ve been winning the division and dominating. They’re always good and are a great organization from the ground up,” Rizzo said. “The pitching staff and their bullpen are very deep.”
Rizz also said that it’s not just the Dodgers status as the NL juggernaut that makes them a season highlight. There’s something special about the neighborhood too, perhaps.
“When you play the Dodgers in L.A., it’s always fun, always electric. Dodger Stadium is a great stadium to play in - and they have good fans. They’re fun to play, because they bring their best every single game. As a competitor that’s what you want to stack up against.”
But what is it like to hit against Dodgers pitchers? Rizzo, a left-handed batter with a very solid career .373 on base percentage and .488 slugging, had some pointed thoughts on that too.
“When you have the big names on the mound, like Kershaw, you try as a batter not to guess too hard what they’re going to do. You try to do less, because they’re coming right after you,” Rizzo said.
“Guys like Kershaw and also [Nationals starter Max] Scherzer and [Mets pitcher Jacob] deGrom are big names for a reason. They win Cy Young Awards and dominate year in and year out.” “Great pitchers,” Rizzo added. [They] aren’t always going to give you the good pitch that you want. But they’re always going to be around the zone, and you hope things happen on your end to put the ball in play. But that usually doesn’t go in your favor."
And on Dodgers’ longtime closer Kenley Jansen? Well, he’s no fun to bat against either.
“With Kenley, I think it’s just that he’s so good and dominant. I don’t think it’s the pitcher’s size that matters, but he throws a pitch that moves three feet across the zone, [with] his cutter,” Rizzo said. The 30-year-old Rizzo hints that, at best, seeing Jansen in the ninth inning is a bit of a mind game.
“When you face guys like that, you have to just kind of surrender. Less is more, if you’re a batter,” Rizzo said. “Kenley’s been doing that for a long time and he’s the best in the business for a reason.”
Ex-Dodger, new Cubs manager David Ross already a favorite
Rizzo also said he’s stoked about having former Dodgers catcher David Ross as the Cubs’ new manager. Ross last played for the Cubs during the 2016 championship season, and was slotted as Jon Lester’s battery mate.
Rizzo stated that Spring Training with Ross was particularly fun and that his ongoing relationship with everyone as fellow players and as an elder statesman during the 2015 and 2016 seasons will only help him as Cubs manager.
“I think Rossy has done a great job of letting down his guard to be the manager, and then toning it back when he needs to tell us it how it is. We’re already loving it.”
Andy Frye has written for Rolling Stone, ESPN, and Forbes. He lives in Chicago just a stone's throw from Wrigley Field.