CHICAGO -- Anthony Rizzo has been in the Cubs' Opening Day lineup in each of the past seven years. The first baseman doesn't want to see that streak come to a close over a back issue, given how much importance is placed on each game in this abbreviated season.
"Opening Day does mean a lot to me, to be the Opening Day starter for the Chicago Cubs," Rizzo said in a Zoom call on Sunday. "And that's the goal. I feel like, with how I felt today and how I was moving today, it's definitely in the right direction to being reality."
Prior to Sunday's exhibition game against the White Sox, Rizzo went through a full workout to test out his back, which has kept him out of intrasquad game action since July 5. Rib cage inflammation was causing tightness in his lower back and leading to occasional spams, forcing Rizzo to miss the bulk of live at-bats this Summer Camp.
In Sunday's workout, Rizzo went through multiple rounds of batting practice, fielded grounders, received simulated throws to first (including pickoffs), completed throws to second base and went through some visualization drills in the batter's box. Following a lighter workout day on Saturday, the first baseman was happy with how he felt afterwards.
"I knew it was going to be a big day," Rizzo said. "I was really pushing it. It was great. I was hitting today with, really, no pain at all, which is good. I feel like today was a really big deal. I feel great and we'll see how I feel [Monday]."
Rizzo noted that Monday is a planned recovery day, meaning he will not be in the lineup for the Cubs' exhibition game against the White Sox. Catcher Victor Caratini -- Rizzo's primary backup at first, with Kris Bryant serving as another option -- started at first for Sunday's exhibition against the South Siders.
The Cubs do not have an exhibition game on Tuesday, but they host the Twins on Wednesday at Wrigley Field. Rizzo is hopeful that he will be able to play in that game, with the goal of being available for Friday's season-opener against the Brewers.
"I definitely would love to play Wednesday to get live at-bats off a different team," Rizzo said. "But I've just got to keep it day to day. I'm very optimistic that I will be in there."
Rotation taking shape
For Wednesday's exhibition game against the Twins at Wrigley Field, the Cubs plan on giving lefty Jon Lester the start and having starter Alec Mills entering in relief. That piggyback approach also indicates that Lester would be in line to start Chicago's July 27 game in Cincinnati.
Given that schedule, righty Tyler Chatwood is in line to start the Cubs' third game of the season, on July 26 against the Brewers.
"You can assume that," manager David Ross said succinctly.
Mills would be the leading candidate to start the fifth game of the season, barring the Cubs opting to slot him behind Lester for July 27, too. Chicago has also used Summer Camp to stretch a handful of its relievers to multi-inning availability (as many as three innings in some cases).
"There will be some guys [where] you'll need that middle man or that piggyback system," Ross said. "That is important. But the great thing for our group is, as I've touched on, these bullpen guys were stretched out for a reason. That's why they're stretched out."
• For the first exhibition game, Ross slotted Jason Kipnis into the lineup as the designated hitter, allowing the Cubs to keep him in the lineup and start Nico Hoerner at second base. The manager reiterated Sunday that he plans on using the DH spot in a variety of ways this season, rather than going with one batter as a full-timer in that role.
"I'm looking at it like I'm going to put the best bat in the lineup," Ross said. "It's a move guys around [situation]. The great thing about this roster is it gives you a lot of flexibility. We've got guys that can play different positions. We can move guys around and -- I've said this to the guys, I've said it to you guys -- the hot bat will play."
Kipnis, batting out of the two-hole, homered off White Sox right-hander Drew Anderson in the first inning.
• Left-hander Kyle Ryan was a late arrival to Summer Camp due to a "process based" delay, but he has been getting regular work over the past week-plus. Ross said he has checked in with Ryan regularly and the setup man is expected to be ready for Opening Day.
"I think he's in a good place," Ross said. "I've had good conversations with him. He feels great. The stuff's looked good when he's gotten out there -- a lot of weak contact. Yeah, I continue to get feedback from Kyle daily. Right now, he looks good to go."
"I think we're the perfect team made for this -- just for this sprint. With the DH, it lengthens our lineup, it lengthens our defense, and it gives our pitchers one less thing to worry about." -- Schwarber
The Cubs will head to the South Side on Monday for a 7:10 p.m. CT cross-town clash against the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field. Right-hander Yu Darvish will take the mound in the exhibition game for the North Siders, opposite Sox lefty Dallas Keuchel. The matchup will be available on MLB.TV and Gameday Audio.