Cubs

Why did Rizzo struggle in San Diego?

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Why did Rizzo struggle in San Diego?

Anthony Rizzos success in the major leagues with the San Diego Padres in 2011 was short-lived.

The Cubs prospect -- who is expected to make his Chicago debut on Tuesday night -- joined the Padres last June 9 to much fanfare and got out to a fantastic start as he had three hits in seven at-bats in his first series against the Washington Nationals at Petco Park.

But from there Rizzo -- who was traded to the Cubs in a four-player deal in January -- endured struggles he later admitted were more difficult than he had previously experienced in a six-year professional career.

Whether it was Petco Park, which plays extremely tough on left-handed pull hitters like Rizzo, or a swing that got long, the first baseman never got back on track.

After he hit .365 with 16 homers in his first 52 games at Triple-A Tucson in 2011, Rizzo saw his strikeout rate increase and average dip in the majors. He struck out 46 times in 128 at-bats for the Padres and he hit .141.

Even so, Rizzo told the North County Times last September that while his confidence might have wavered, it hadnt disappeared. Rizzo, a sixth-round pick of the Boston Red Sox in the 2007 draft, said he believed the slump would make him mentally stronger for his next chance in the majors.

Ive never struggled like that, Rizzo said. I handled it the best I could. I mean theres times where I was on the verge of snapping or blowing up, but its baseball and Im not as bad as Ive showed. And I know that. I got my feet wet. I gave me good confidence up here. I belong here.

The telltale sign for Cubs general manager Jed Hoye -- then with the Padres -- was how Rizzo constantly missed pitches he had crushed at Tucson. Rizzo struggled with fastballs and ended up with only one home run for the Padres.

The Padres acquired Yonder Alonso from the Cincinnati Reds in the offseason and chose him over Rizzo because they felt Alonsos line-drive approach was better suited for Petco Park than Rizzo, who is more of a flyball hitter.

Rizzo thought the mechanics of his swing were part of the problem.

Once his swing got long, Rizzo admits his head was his own worst enemy.

I didnt see that coming at all, Rizzo said. But it happened. The big thing is instead of worrying about getting hits, youve got to see the ball and hit the ball. When I was here earlier I was so worried about, Ive got to get a hit that I forgot to see the ball. I was just trying too hard. You try harder in this game youre going to get crushed.

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

MESA, Ariz. — The first thing Kyle Schwarber told his new hitting coach?

"His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.'"

The Cubs hired Chili Davis as the team's new hitting coach for myriad reasons. He's got a great track record from years working with the Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics, and that .274/.360/.451 slash line during an illustrious 19-year big league career certainly helps.

But Davis' main immediate task in his new gig will be to help several of the Cubs' key hitters prove Schwarber's assessment correct.

Schwarber had a much-publicized tough go of things in 2017. After he set the world on fire with his rookie campaign in 2015 and returned from what was supposed to be a season-ending knee injury in time to be one of the Cubs' World Series heroes in 2016, he hit just .211 last season, getting sent down to Triple-A Iowa for a stint in the middle of the season. Schwarber still hit 30 home runs, but his 2017 campaign was seen as a failure by a lot of people.

Enter Davis, who now counts Schwarber as one of his most important pupils.

"He's a worker," Davis said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago. "Schwarbs, he knows he's a good player. His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.' He said last year was just a fluke year. He said, 'I've never failed in my life.' And he said, 'I'm going to get back to the player that I was.'

"I think he may have — and this is my thought, he didn't say this to me — I think it may have been, he had a big World Series, hit some homers, and I think he tried to focus on being more of a home run type guy as opposed to being a good hitter.

"His focus has changed. I had nothing to do with that, he came in here with that focus that he wants to be a good hitter first and let whatever happens happen. And he's worked on that. The main thing with Kyle is going to be is just maintaining focus."

The physically transformed Schwarber mentioned last week that he's established a good relationship with Davis, in no small part because Schwarber can relate to what Davis went through when he was a player. And to hear Davis tell it, it sounds like he's describing Schwarber's first three years as a big leaguer to a T.

"Telling him my story was important because it was similar," Davis said. "I was a catcher, got to big league camp, and I was thrown in the outfield. And I hated the outfield. ... But I took on the challenge. I made the adjustment, I had a nice first year, then my second year I started spiraling. I started spiraling down, and I remember one of my coaches saying, 'I'm going to have to throw you a parachute just so you can land softly.' I got sent down to Triple-A at the All-Star break for 15 days.

"When I got sent down, I was disappointed, but I was also really happy. I needed to get away from the big league pressure and kind of find myself again. I went home and refocused myself and thought to myself, 'I'm going to come back as Chili.' Because I tried to change, something changed about me the second year.

"And when I did that, I came back the next year and someone tried to change me and I said, 'Pump the breaks a little bit, let me fail my way, and then I'll come to you if I'm failing.' And they understood that, and I had a nice year, a big year and my career took off.

"I'm telling him, 'Hey, let last year go. It happened, it's in the past. Keep working hard, maintain your focus, and you'll be fine.'"

Getting Schwarber right isn't Davis' only task, of course. Despite the Cubs being one of the highest-scoring teams in baseball last season, they had plenty of guys go through subpar seasons. Jason Heyward still has yet to find his offensive game since coming to Chicago as a high-priced free agent. Ben Zobrist was bothered by a wrist injury last season and put up the worst numbers of his career. Addison Russell had trouble staying healthy, as well, and saw his numbers dip from what they were during the World Series season in 2016.

So Davis has plenty of charges to work with. But he likes what he's seen so far.

"They work," Davis said. "They come here to work. I had a group of guys in Boston that were the same last year, and it makes my job easier. They want to get better, they come out every day, they show up, they want to work. They're excited, and I'm excited to be around them.

And what have the Cubs found out about Davis? Just about everyone answers that question the same way: He likes to talk.

"I'm not going to stop talking," he said. "If I stop talking, something's wrong."

Podcast: Which Blackhawks could be on the move before trade deadline?

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USA TODAY

Podcast: Which Blackhawks could be on the move before trade deadline?

On the latest Blackhawks Talk Podcast, Adam Burish and Pat Boyle discuss which Blackhawks could be on the trading block and what players are building blocks for the Hawks future.

Burish also shares a couple memorable trade deadline days and his “near” return to the Blackhawks in 2012. Plus, he makes his bold trade deadline prediction for the Hawks.

Listen to the full Blackhawks Talk Podcast right here: