MIAMI -- How do you justify and when do you know it's the right time to give one of the hottest hitters in baseball the day off?
That's a decision Cubs manager Joe Maddon said was not a difficult one at all when he made out Saturday's lineup card sans Anthony Rizzo. The hot-hitting leadoff man didn't start against the Marlins, but he did pinch-hit in the ninth inning of the 5-3 win, lining out before playing first base in the bottom half. Rizzo has now played in 73 of Chicago's first 74 games.
"It had to be either today or tomorrow," Maddon said. "And they have the righty [Edinson Volquez] tomorrow. So with the lefty [Justin Nicolino] today, get him off his feet. We have a week's worth of games coming up.
"He's been going after it pretty hard being the leadoff hitter. I think he's done a wonderful job, obviously. So, don't want to beat him up. Don't want to beat up our bullpen, don't want to beat up our players right now. We still have a long way to go. And if you ride them too hard, it's the point of diminishing returns will set in. So all factors considered, I thought it was the right thing to do today."
Maddon said that Rizzo would be back atop the Cubs' lineup on Sunday when the Cubs complete the four-game series at Marlins Park. It's a spot that Rizzo has taken to in the last couple of weeks. But Saturday offered a prime opportunity for him to take a break.
"I've been a part of way too many teams that have been exhausted in September," Maddon said. "I don't want our team ever to be exhausted in September. It was a culmination of guys not getting days off, batting practice every day for an hour, hitting day games after night games. For all those reasons, I saw teams exhausted in September.
"I think if we do this properly ... we've still got our floaties on, we're very handy right now within our division. To really run guys into the ground right now for me would absolutely be the wrong thing to do."
Besides, Rizzo said that physically he was probably ready for a day off.
"I didn't fight it," Rizzo said. "It's a long year. You've got to be smart with your days. You take a day off now; it'll help in the future. Joe spoke to us about trying to get us days here and there. We're going to D.C. and then we play our division."
Rizzo has excelled from the leadoff spot and has been swinging a hot bat since early May. He has reached base in 16 of his last 17 games, and has posted a .435 on-base percentage over his last 42 games since May 7 (third best in the National League over that span).
"That's pretty decent, I guess," Rizzo said. "As long as we win, it doesn't matter where I hit."