Rizzo returns to Cubs lineup after back stiffness

May 18th, 2019

WASHINGTON -- The Cubs received a welcome boost Friday as first baseman returned to the lineup for the start of a weekend series at Nationals Park. Rizzo had missed four consecutive games due to back tightness but texted manager Joe Maddon on Friday morning to say he was good to go.

"I felt good yesterday," Rizzo said before the game. "It's just one of those things where it can grab again, so just giving it that extra day is big. ... Today feels way better than yesterday and so on and so on, so hopefully it just continues to get better."

Maddon said the Cubs will be cautious should anything come up with Rizzo, who has battled back stiffness in the past.

"I still want to watch it closely," Maddon said. "I don't want to push too hard. If he has any ill feelings about anything, I would definitely pull back."

Rizzo, who was hitting .252 with 10 home runs and 29 RBIs in 37 games, was hitting third in the Cubs' lineup against starting the series opener for Washington. Rizzo entered play hitting .211 lifetime (4-for-19) against the Nationals' ace with one homer.

"He's one of the best," Rizzo said. "It's fun facing him because of the intensity he brings every day. ... These are the games you don't want to miss because you have a chance to face the best."

Kintzler makes DC return

Cubs reliever denied there being any extra motivation this weekend in Washington, but a coy smile suggested otherwise. Kintzler is back at Nationals Park for the second time since Washington traded him to the Cubs before last year's Trade Deadline.

While the Nationals entered play with the Majors' highest bullpen ERA (6.20), Kintzler has been among the Cubs' most reliable late-inning options. After battling inconsistency soon after he was dealt to Chicago last year (7.00 ERA in 25 appearances), Kintzler has returned to form in 2019 with a 2.29 ERA and six holds in 19 appearances.

Kintzler points to some mechanical adjustments he made with first-year pitching coach Tommy Hottovy as a key contribution for his personal turnaround. He also points to the stability he has found this year after being thrown into the fire last year from a trade he did not expect.

"You're not expecting to get traded but everything gets thrown at you, you have to leave right away, your family has to move, you have to learn new teammates, learn new ways and pitch at a high level in a pennant race, that's tough," said Kintzler, whose wife helped move their two dogs and two children aged 2 and under.

"I just wasn't prepared or in the right mind situation for all that. The year before, I got traded from [Minnesota to Washington] and I was prepared to get traded. It was the first time I was going to a contender so it was a whole different situation. Last year, I wasn''t prepared for it."

Kintzler was training in Las Vegas last December when Hottovy met with him to discuss his mechanics and to look ahead to 2019. The meeting laid the foundation, Kintzler says, for the changes in his game.

Given the injuries to relievers Brandon Morrow, Tony Barnette and Pedro Strop, Kintzler has become increasingly valuable in Maddon's bullpen.

"The guy has done it before," Maddon said. "He's an All-Star. It's not unusual, he doesn't feel awkward being in the later part of the game in high-leverage [situations] and that matters. He's done that before, and now he's doing it with that confidence knowing that 'If I do this, the ball is going to do that.' Confidence. He's pitching really well. ... His changeup has been superb. It's not a fluke. He's legit."