Leading man: Rizzo helps Cubs down Bucs
Anthony Rizzo hardly looks like a typical leadoff hitter. The Chicago Cubs’ 6-foot-3, 240-pound first baseman isn’t much of a stolen base threat and he doesn’t exactly motor down the line. But there’s more than one way to challenge opposing pitchers, and Rizzo has done just that when batting first.
Against the Pirates on Sunday, Rizzo homered among his three hits to lead Chicago to a 7-1 victory. The defending World Series champions took two of three in Pittsburgh and improved to 34-34.
Rizzo opened the game with a double and scored in the first inning. He singled and scored in the third, then hit a two-run homer in the seventh. The home run was Rizzo’s 16th of the year, surpassing Kris Bryant for the team lead.
Not bad for a leadoff man.
“It’s crazy,” Rizzo said. “It’s weird. It’s funny. But it’s great. . If we win ballgames, I’ll be the leadoff hitter for the rest of my career. It’s all about winning. I’ll just say it’s different.”
Since manager Joe Maddon moved Rizzo to the leadoff spot last Tuesday, he’s hitting .409 with three home runs and two doubles in five games.
“Gosh, the way he started the game again and got the momentum rolling,” Maddon said. “I think he likes doing it. He likes the idea of getting that extra at-bat.”
Cubs starter John Lackey (5-7) allowed two hits and struck out four over six innings. Lackey kept the ball on the ground and kept the Pirates off balance all day.
“He was just locating,” Pittsburgh shortstop Jordy Mercer said. “His fastball was really good. He doesn’t throw as hard as he used to, but it doesn’t matter if you locate. If you locate consistently and make guys expand a little bit when you need to, that always works.”
Carl Edwards Jr., Hector Rondon and Brian Duensing completed the three-hitter for the Cubs.
Willson Contreras drove in three runs with a pair of doubles, and John Jay had three hits with an RBI and scored twice. Ian Happ added a solo homer in the ninth, his eighth of the season.
The first four Chicago runs came against Jameson Taillon (3-2), who made his second start since returning from surgery to treat testicular cancer. Taillon gave up eight hits in five innings while striking out four.
Mercer homered leading off the fifth.
Cubs: RF Jason Heyward exited in the fourth inning with a left hand abrasion. Heyward injured himself attempting to play a ball in foul territory in the second. He attempted to stay in the game after getting it taped up and popped out at the plate in the third. ... SS Addison Russell did not start to rest a sore right ankle. Russell hurt it running the bases on Saturday.
Pirates: RHP Juan Nicasio didn’t pitch for the second consecutive game. “He felt a little something,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “We just wanted to calm it down so he can get back out there.” ... C Chris Stewart was reinstated from the 10-day disabled list and C Jacob Stallings was optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis. Stewart had been out since May 30 with a left hamstring strain.
Cubs: Return home for a three-game series against San Diego beginning Monday night. Jon Lester (4-4, 3.89 ERA) will face former Cubs pitcher Clayton Richard. Chicago is 20-15 at Wrigley Field this season.
Pirates: Travel to Milwaukee for a four-game series with the Brewers that starts Monday night. Gerrit Cole (4-6, 4.54) will try to build off his last outings, a seven-inning effort that snapped a streak of four straight appearances of five innings or fewer.