Rizzo sizzling since move to leadoff spot

First baseman makes 9th straight start atop Cubs lineup

July 24th, 2018

CHICAGO -- doesn't look like your prototypical leadoff hitter, and there's a good chance he won't stay in that slot for the remainder of the season.
Right now, though, Rizzo is doing so well that manager Joe Maddon sees no reason to shake things up. The 6-foot-3, 240-pound first baseman occupied the one-hole for the ninth game in a row Monday night against the D-backs at Wrigley Field. Rizzo will likely be there for the entire four-game series vs. Arizona.
If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Over the past eight games, Rizzo hasn't just produced -- he's performing like the greatest leadoff hitter of all time.
"I just can't move Rickey out of the leadoff spot right now. I can't do it," Maddon said, alluding to Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson. "He's provided a lot of energy at the top of the batting order."
That energy comes in the form of Rizzo's .556/.658/.815 line since being moved to the leadoff spot. He's reached base at least four times in each of the past three games.
Rizzo is just the latest example of a player who's benefited from Maddon's slump-fixing antidote. It's not a secret recipe; it's just a bit of an unconventional philosophy. Instead of moving guys down in the order when they fall into a funk, Maddon bats them first.
He did this with Tim Salmon when he was with the Angels and with while managing the Rays, as well as a number of Cubs sluggers. He batted leadoff this year to help the former MVP get going.
The 64-year-old manager first concocted this remedy while managing at Double-A Midland of the Texas League. His trial subject was physical specimen Kevin King, and the positive results were almost immediate.
"[It was] 1985. Kevin King was built like Don Baylor," Maddon said. "He should've been hitting third or fourth. He hit .230 with seven homers and, I think, 30 RBIs in the first half. This guy had so much potential.
"So I said, 'K.K. you're going to hit leadoff, and I want you to try to hit singles up the middle and get on base as often as you possibly can.' He ended up with 30 homers and 100 RBIs."
Such a drastic turnaround sounded a bit embellished, even to the man telling the story. So Maddon smiled and said: "That's pretty close to being accurate."
Still, Maddon's recollection of King was mostly dead-on. The year was 1986, not '85, and King finished with 93 RBIs, not 100, but there's no debating that .301/.371/.576 with 30 homers is a great season.
Now, Rizzo is benefiting from the same prescription that Maddon gave King 32 years earlier.
Why does it work? Dr. Maddon said batting a middle-of-the-order guy first allows him to simplify his approach and focus on reaching base safely.
"In the one-hole," Maddon said. "[Rizzo] is just trying to get on base. He definitely thinks that he needs to be a table-setter. His at-bats have been really patient and he just is using the whole field.
"When we do move him back, there's a lot of benefits to what he's doing right now."
Worth noting
• Drew Smyly said Monday his arm felt good after throwing a simulated game on Sunday. The next step will be another sim game on Thursday at Wrigley Field before beginning a Minor League rehab outing. Smyly is coming back from having Tommy John surgery last year.
• Iowa Cubs utility infielder was named the Pacific Coast League Player of the Week. Court, 30, hit for a .615 average (16-for-26) with two home runs and six RBIs. On Friday, he hit for the cycle, Iowa's first since Robin Jennings on Aug. 15, 1997. Court is the first I-Cub to garner Player of the Week recognition since captured the award on May 15, 2016.
• Looking ahead to the upcoming series against the Cardinals at Busch Stadium, the Cubs will start Mike Montgomery on Friday, on Saturday and on Sunday.