It was the eighth inning on Wednesday, and Anthony Rizzo took his best swing at a Yennier Cano changeup, powering a blast high into the Bronx evening sky. The crowd of more than 36,000 roared, expecting to see the ball carry over the 314-foot marker in right field for what would have been a go-ahead, two-run homer.
But Rizzo wasn’t fooled. He dropped the bat, then his head, watching Orioles outfielder Anthony Santander settle under the ball a step or two from the warning track. At a time when the Yankees could desperately use his production, Rizzo is seeking answers to correct his power outage.
“I’m just not hitting to my standard,” Rizzo said. “It’s frustrating personally, but this is part of being a baseball player. When things are tough, it shows your character and who you are. It’s just an opportunity to work, and keep working, and figure it out.”
The most straightforward explanation for Rizzo’s performance dip stems from a collision at first base with the Padres’ Fernando Tatis Jr. during a game at Yankee Stadium on May 28. Rizzo was on a potential All-Star track at the time, batting .304/.376/.505 with eight doubles, 11 homers and 32 RBIs in 53 games.
Rizzo missed the club’s next series in Seattle and received treatment, then returned to the lineup against the Dodgers in Los Angeles.
Since that point, Rizzo has batted .163/.313/.207, homerless in his last 141 at-bats and collecting only four doubles among his 15 hits. He’s hardly been the “wrecking ball in the middle” of the batting order that manager Aaron Boone knows Rizzo can be.
“We’ve got to get him there,” Boone said. “He’s a huge presence in our lineup.”
Both Rizzo and Boone insist that the neck injury has cleared, and that his current issues are more mechanical.
“There were those couple of weeks right after that [neck injury] where I think he was definitely a little bit off,” Boone said. “I think, of late, he’s been all right. He hasn’t hit the ball out of the ballpark, and that’s obviously a part of his game. I do feel like, over the past week or 10 days, he’s started to gain a little bit of traction with getting on base again, getting some hits and getting better swings off.”
When Aaron Judge landed on the injured list with a right big toe injury that continues to linger, and still with no set return date, managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner said that the club needed several of its veteran position players to step up.
Steinbrenner specifically mentioned Giancarlo Stanton, DJ LeMahieu and Rizzo then. Callups such as Jake Bauers and Billy McKinney have provided some unexpected thump, along with Gleyber Torres and Anthony Volpe, Rizzo said that he is continuing to work toward solutions to move his production closer toward career norms.
“As baseball players, we put so much on ourselves, individually, to perform how we know we can,” Rizzo said. “When you’re not, it’s frustrating. When you see other guys going through it, you know what they’re going through. It’s just staying positive, staying upbeat, and not letting the game beat you up as much as it could.”