PITTSBURGH — A 96-mph fastball drilling Anthony Rizzo in the wrong spot could become a nightmare scenario for a Cubs team with ambitious goals this season.
But manager Joe Maddon doesn’t think opposing pitchers are headhunting and targeting the All-Star first baseman. Rizzo has been hit by six pitches already this month, setting the franchise record for April. So far, the Cubs have kept the peace.
“I’m not (seeing them) intentionally trying to hit (Rizzo),” Maddon said before Wednesday’s game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park. “I’m not seeing that vitriolic moment where the guy’s just going to smoke somebody. I’m sure it’s going to happen. But I don’t think I’ve seen it yet.”
Rizzo is only the second player in the last 100 seasons to get hit at least six times within a team’s first 13 games, according to ESPN Stats & Info. (Shin-Soo Choo was hit seven times during his first 13 games with the Cincinnati Reds in 2013.)
Within the last 102 seasons starting in 1914, only one Cub has been hit more than six times in a single calendar month (Marlon Byrd with seven in July 2010).
“I don’t worry (about it),” Maddon said. “You always have a pretty good sense about when something’s intentional or not. In our game, if we want to pitch inside also, we’re going to hit some guys on occasion.
“We smoked (Andrew) McCutchen (on Tuesday night) and nobody said anything about that. We weren’t trying to hit him. But we hit him. So I think you have to try to evaluate intent before you want to reciprocate.”
Rizzo — who began the day hitting .302 with a .475 on-base percentage — crowds the plate and usually shrugs it off: “It’s going to happen. I don’t mind it. It’s part of the game.”
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Only five players in the majors got hit more times than Rizzo (15) last season.
“That’s who he is,” Maddon said. “Sometimes it’s the style of the hitter more than it is the pitcher.”
Sometimes it’s a cruel game. Mike Olt’s on the 60-day disabled list with a hairline fracture in his right wrist after one of these freak accidents. The Cubs don’t want to think about their lineup without Rizzo’s left-handed power or what sort of hole that would leave at first base.
“He’s not going to give any quarter right there,” Maddon said. “Just maybe wear a pad. Just get the Barry Bonds autographed elbow pad, something like that.
“I guess Walmart’s selling them right now very inexpensively. That would be something I would encourage him to wear.”