Cubs

Cubs: Joe Maddon sees a lot of Joey Votto in Anthony Rizzo

vottorizzo.png

Cubs: Joe Maddon sees a lot of Joey Votto in Anthony Rizzo

When asked about Anthony Rizzo's latest hot streak, Cubs manager Joe Maddon didn't want to roll out the usual superlatives.

Instead, he paid the Cubs first baseman an even higher compliment, comparing Rizzo to Reds star Joey Votto.

Rizzo has been on fire lately, reaching base 28 times in his last 52 plate appearances, posting a .415/.538/.634 slash line in his last 11 games. He's been even better the past five games, reaching safely on 15 of 24 plate appearances. It helps that he's been hit by a pitch a league-leading six times.

[SHOP: Get an Anthony Rizzo jersey here]

That puts Rizzo atop the National League with a .493 on-base percentage entering play Saturday, drawing comparisons to the 2010 NL MVP.

"If you want to teach a young left-handed hitter how to break the shift, watch what [Rizzo] is doing right now," Maddon said. "Probably the best 'B-hack' — with two strikes — I've seen in a long time. He just makes adjustments.

"Votto's like that. Rizzo and [Votto] kind of resemble each other. When the at-bat gets deep, Votto will choke up, do different things. I really appreciate that about his at-bats.

"That's the thing I think young hitters just don't understand or work on enough. It's like one size fits all with their swings. They don't understand how to manipulate the bat head with their hands. I think Rizz does and I definitely know Votto does.

"That's how you eliminate shifting on left-handed hitters — teach them young how to utilize their hands and what to do when they get to two strikes. Those two lefties are really good at it."

[MORE: Unsung hero Jonathan Herrera impressing Maddon, Cubs]

Votto has earned a reputation as one of the most cerebral hitters in the game today, utilizing a laser focus at the plate and an incredible batting eye. He led the NL in OBP four years in a row from 2010-13 and still posted a .390 mark last season despite a .255 average as he struggled through injuries and played in just 62 games.

Votto may be 31, but he doesn't appear ready to pass the torch to 25-year-old Rizzo just yet. Votto is fifth in the NL with a .462 OBP, hitting .344 with six homers and 15 RBI.

Rizzo hasn't quite shown that power yet — with only three doubles and two homers on the season — but he does have three extra-base hits in the last two games, including a two-run homer in the series opener with the Reds Friday night.

After reaching base four times in five trips to the plate in Friday's victory, Rizzo broke down his recent hot stretch simply:

"It's just baseball," he said. "Just trying to do what I do every day and luckily, I'm getting good results right now."

Cubs Talk Podcast: Sitting down with new Cubs coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey

2-21_jim_hickey_usat.jpg
USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Sitting down with new Cubs coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey

Spring training baseball games are up around the bend, but before the boys of summer get into organized action, two of the team’s new coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey sit down with Kelly Crull.

Plus, Vinnie Duber joins Kelly to discuss these baseball conversations including the memorable first words of Kyle Schwarber to Chili Davis, “I don’t suck!"

Listen to the full episode at this link (iOS users can go here) or in the embedded player below. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts.

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

MESA, Ariz. — We know Willson Contreras doesn’t like baseball’s new pace-of-play rules.

He isn’t the only one.

“I think it’s a terrible idea. I think it’s all terrible,” Jon Lester said last week at spring training, before the specifics of the new rules were even announced. “The beautiful thing about our sport is there’s no time.”

Big surprise coming from the Cubs’ resident old-schooler.

The new rules limit teams to six mound visits per every nine-inning game, with exceptions for pitching changes, between batters, injuries and after the announcement of a pinch hitter. Teams get an extra mound visit for every extra inning in extra-inning games. Also, commercial breaks between innings have been cut by 20 seconds.

That’s it. But it’s caused a bit of an uproar.

Contreras made headlines Tuesday when he told reporters that he’ll willingly break those rules if he needs to in order to put his team in a better position to win.

“I’ve been reading a lot about this rule, and I don’t really care. If I have to pay the price for my team, I will,” Contreras said. “There’s six mound visits, but what if you have a tight game? … You have to go out there. They cannot say anything about that. It’s my team, and we just care about winning. And if they’re going to fine me about the No. 7 mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”

Talking about pace-of-play rule changes last week, Cubs manager Joe Maddon said his team would adapt to any new rules. In Chicago baseball’s other Arizona camp, a similar tune of adaptation was being sung.

“Obviously as players we’ve got to make adjustments to whatever rules they want to implement,” White Sox pitcher James Shields said. “This is a game of adjustments, we’re going to have to make adjustments as we go. We’re going to have to figure out logistics of the thing, and I would imagine in spring training we’re going to be talking about it more and more as we go so we don’t mess it up.”

There was general consensus that mound visits are a valuable thing. So what happens if a pitcher and catcher need to communicate but are forced to do it from 60 feet, six inches away?

“Sign language,” White Sox catching prospect Zack Collins joked. “I guess you have to just get on the same page in the dugout and hope that nothing goes wrong if you’re out of visits.”

In the end, here’s the question that needs answering: Are baseball games really too long?

On one hand, as Lester argued, you know what you’re signing up for when you watch a baseball game, be it in the stands at a ballpark or on TV. No one should be shocked when a game rolls on for more than three hours.

But shock and fans' levels of commitment or just pure apathy are two different things. And sometimes it’s a tough ask for fans to dedicate four hours of their day 162 times a year. So there’s a very good reason baseball is trying to make the game go faster, to keep people from leaving the stands or flipping the TV to another channel.

Unsurprisingly, Lester would rather keep things the way they are.

“To be honest with you, the fans know what they’re getting themselves into when they go to a game,” Lester said. “It’s going to be a three-hour game. You may have a game that’s two hours, two hours and 15 minutes. Great, awesome. You may have a game that’s four hours. That’s the beautiful part of it.

“I get the mound visit thing. But what people that aren’t in the game don’t understand is that there’s so much technology in the game, there’s so many cameras on the field, that every stadium now has a camera on the catcher’s crotch. So they know signs before you even get there. Now we’ve got Apple Watches, now we’ve got people being accused of sitting in a tunnel (stealing signs). So there’s reasons behind the mound visit. He’s not just coming out there asking what time I’m going to dinner or, ‘Hey, how you feeling?’ There’s reasons behind everything, and I think if you take those away, it takes away the beauty of the baseball game.

“Every game has a flow, and I feel like that’s what makes it special. If you want to go to a timed event, go to a timed event. I’m sorry I’m old-school about it, but baseball’s been played the same way for a long time. And now we’re trying to add time to it. We’re missing something somewhere.”

Whether limiting the number of mound visits creates a significant dent in this problem remains to be seen. But excuse the players if they’re skeptical.

“We’ve got instant replay, we’ve got all kinds of different stuff going on. I don’t think (limiting) the mound visits are going to be the key factor to speeding this game up,” Shields said. “Some pitchers take too long, and some hitters take too long. It’s combination of a bunch of stuff.

“I know they’re trying to speed the game up a little bit. I think overall, the game’s going as fast as it possibly could. You’ve got commercials and things like that. TV has a lot to do with it. There’s a bunch of different combinations of things. But as a player, we’ve got to make an adjustment.”