'It's game on' — Anthony Rizzo won't back down after Padres call him out for 'cheap shot'

'It's game on' — Anthony Rizzo won't back down after Padres call him out for 'cheap shot'

If the Cubs wanted to send a message, this wouldn’t be the team to target. The San Diego Padres are a largely unrecognizable group of cast-offs and unproven players, already 15 games under .500 and tanking for the future.

This isn’t the 2015 Cubs fighting to create their own identity and take down the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cubs are so far beyond destroying the “Lovable Losers” label — or thinking that one play in a 3-2 win could somehow spark the defending World Series champs out of this blah “start” to a season that’s almost halfway over.

But in many ways, the Cubs take their cues from Anthony Rizzo, who knocked Padres catcher Austin Hedges out of Monday night’s game at Wrigley Field and calmly fired back after manager Andy Green called the collision a “cheap shot.”

“By no means do I think that’s a dirty play at all,” Rizzo said. “I’ve talked to a lot of umpires about this rule. And my understanding is: If they have the ball, it’s game on.”

Green vented his frustrations to San Diego reporters after watching the crash that ended the sixth inning, Rizzo tagging up from third base on the low line drive that Kris Bryant hit to ex-Cub Matt Szczur in center field.

Szczur caught the ball on the run and fired it in to Hedges, who grabbed it on the bounce, pivoted to his left and felt the full force of Rizzo (listed at 6-foot-3, 240 pounds). Hedges — a promising catcher the Padres drafted during the Jed Hoyer/Jason McLeod administration — tumbled backwards and held onto the ball for the double play that preserved a 2-1 lead before leaving with a bruised right thigh.

“I went pretty much straight in,” Rizzo said. “He caught the ball. He went towards the plate.

“It’s a play where I’m out by two steps. I slide, he runs into me. It’s just one of those plays where it’s unfortunate he had to exit.”

Rizzo — who bombed with the Padres during his big-league debut in 2011 before becoming a star in Chicago — essentially shrugged off Green’s suggestion that Major League Baseball will have to impose some form of discipline.

“The league will look at it,” Rizzo said. “It’s very sensitive because it doesn’t happen (often). But from my understanding of the rules, it’s a play at the plate.”

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Manager Joe Maddon made Rizzo his leadoff hitter last week as a last resort, trying to spark a team that’s now 35-34 and only 1.5 games behind the first-place Milwaukee Brewers. Rizzo reached base to lead off a game for the sixth straight time with a bunt up the third-base line against the defensive shift, notched an RBI with a sacrifice fly in the third inning and set the Hedges crash in motion with a leadoff triple into the right-field corner.

A verified Twitter account for the Padres Radio Network posted a photo of the collision with this caption: “Well #Padres fans, should the #Padres retaliate in this series for the slide by Rizzo? RT if you think yes, absolutely they should.”

Maddon — an anti-rules guy in general — has never been a fan of The Buster Posey Rule.

“You don’t see it anymore, because the runner thinks he has to avoid it,” Maddon said. “He doesn’t. If the guy’s in the way, you’re still able to hit him. I think we just retrained the mind so much right there that they look to miss (the catcher).

“I’d much prefer what Rizz did tonight. And what he did was right, absolutely right, so there’s nothing wrong with that. Nobody could tell me differently.

“It’s a good play. The catcher’s in the way. You don’t try to avoid him in an effort to score and hurt yourself. You hit him, just like Rizz did.”

The Cubs still managed only two runs in six-plus innings against Clayton Richard — the lefty they acquired for a dollar from the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Triple-A affiliate in the middle of the 2015 season and designated for assignment last summer — after hitting into double plays in the first, second and fifth innings.

Javier Baez scored the go-ahead run from first base in the seventh inning when Jose Pirela misplayed Albert Almora Jr.’s double in left field. “Go Cubs Go” played on the sound system only after bulletproof closer Wade Davis escaped a second-and-third, one-out jam in the ninth inning.

But the lasting image will be Rizzo vs. Hedges. You know how Jon Lester will score it after his “we’re out there playing with a bunch of pansies” rant following last month’s loss at Busch Stadium.

“I was fired up — I loved it,” said Lester, who this time got the quality start no-decision. “Obviously, you don’t want to see anybody get hurt, but that’s part of baseball.

“The slide into second — I think that kind of came across as a little bit of an excuse in that game, just because we lost that game. And I think it looked bad as far as what we were saying about it. But that’s baseball. That’s the way the game’s been played for a long, long time.

“He caught the ball. He protected the plate. And Rizz had nowhere to go.”

Cubs continue behind-the-scenes makeover by hiring new scouting director

Cubs continue behind-the-scenes makeover by hiring new scouting director

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - The Cubs are close to the point of the offseason where their sole focus will be on the roster.

As the final coaching staff comes together, the organization also announced their scouting director Wednesday, adding Dan Kantrovitz as the VP of scouting.

Kantrovitz, 41, spent the last five seasons as the assistant general manager to Billy Beane with the Oakland A's and previously served as the director of scouting for the St. Louis Cardinals for three seasons (2012-14). He is a Brown University graduate and also got his Master's Degree at Harvard.

Kantrovitz is a St. Louis native and was reportedly discussing a return to the Cardinals this winter before he took the job with the Cubs:

He was part of the Cardinals scouting department that drafted Jack Flaherty 34th overall in 2014, plus current Cubs reliever Rowan Wick in the ninth round (300th overall) in 2012 and has other successful high picks on his resume (Michael Wacha, Stephen Piscotty, Luke Weaver).

"We're really excited to be able to bring Danny Kantroviz on board," Theo Epstein said Wednesday at the MLB GM Meetings. "To be able to hire somebody to run our drafts who's already held that position and already run successful drafts in the past, it's a unique opportunity. Guys don't usually go back once they reach the assistant GM level. But in Dan's case, he has just discovered that his passion is running the draft.

"It really fits the exact profile we're looking for. He can scout - he goes out and sees 200 players a year when he's running the draft - and he can really relate very well to scouts and he's also got experience building advanced analytical models and combining both those worlds in a really effective manner. I think he fills a big void for us and look forward to working with him for years to come."

Epstein also called the Kantrovitz hire a "best case scenario" for the Cubs as they reshape their front office infrastructure. In September, Epstein moved Jason McLeod from head of scouting and player development (the position he held since coming over to the Cubs after the 2011 season) into a special assistant role in the big-league front office and shook up the player development department.

They wanted a fresh perspective and new insight into the draft and developing players given the organization's inability to produce homegrown pitchers in the eight years under Epstein's reign. Kantrovitz is the guy they've chosen to now lead the scouting department and the hope is he's able to find more success in the draft.

"Dan is as qualified as maybe anyone out there in baseball to do [balance all the information on draft day] since he has scouted extensively and is on the road the entire draft season seeing players and has done so for many years," Epstein said. "He also is one of the top quants [quantitative analyst] in the game as well. Builds his own models and understands it on a granular level - not just to the R & D department, but being a part of it and not just relating to scouts but being one. He brings a really unique skillset and set of experiences to the position."

That's another big hire to check off the list for the Cubs as the offseason starts to heat up. Epstein and Co. can now turn their attention to fine-tuning the roster to ensure the whole is greater than the sum of the parts in 2020. 

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Why Andy Green is such an important part of the Cubs coaching calculus

Why Andy Green is such an important part of the Cubs coaching calculus

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — On the day he was introduced as the next Cubs manager, David Ross made it a point to explain how important it is that his bench coach is "one step ahead" of him as he gets his feet under him.

Theo Epstein echoed that sentiment, saying a bench coach with managerial experience was vital as the Cubs help Ross along as not only a first-year manager, but also a first-year coach.

Enter Andy Green.

The 42-year-old Green spent the last four seasons as the San Diego Padres manager, but was fired with one week left in the 2019 season and two years left on his current deal. The Padres wanted a different voice moving into the future after Green compiled a 274-366 record and lost at least 85 games each season, finishing no higher than fourth place in the National League West.

But the Cubs don't want Green to be the manager and they love what he brings to the table as a veteran coach and Ross' right-hand man. 

"Talking to the Padre guys that I know well, he has excellent in-game strategy and always thought ahead very well in-game," Cubs GM Jed Hoyer said Tuesday. "Very bright, very well prepared. And that's not to mention he's a really good coach. We felt like that was a really good pairing for David. He hasn't managed, so having a guy next to him that, by all accounts, was really good in-game and controls information well, I think that's a really nice pairing."

At his introductory presser, Ross acknowledged his weaknesses as a first-time manager and admitted he will need some time to get the "feel" back of being in the dugout and engaged in each pitch after serving as either a broadcaster or front office executive for the last three years.

As a player, Ross often tried to think and strategize along with his manager, but that's not the same as actually having to make those calls and worry about pitching changes, pinch-hitting, umpire challenges and any other in-game duties a manger is tasked with. It can all add up quickly and managers often have to make the crucial decisions at the snap of a finger.

Ross and Green have not worked together, but the Cubs are hoping they can form a fast friendship and believe Green's ability to prepare is also an asset along with his experience. 

"He's gonna be great at [the bench coach job]," Padres GM A.J. Preller said. "I think it's gonna be a really good thing for somebody that's in that [manager's] chair for the first time having somebody that's gonna be knowledgeable, prepared, detail-oriented and somebody that understands what it's like to sit in that seat. I think all those things are gonna help serve [Green] really well."

Preller and Green reportedly didn't always see eye-to-eye in the big picture view of where the Padres were going, but there's no denying how the San Diego GM feels about his former manager's intellect and the Cubs won't need him to call the shots — only to assist Ross in doing so.

"Andy is probably one of the most intelligent baseball people I've been around," Preller said. "To me, probably as good a person as I've been around as far as Xs and Os and knowing the game. Andy always seemed to be two or three steps ahead. He's very well thought out, very well prepared. It's gonna be a huge strength for him and I think it will be nice for a first-year manager to have somebody like Andy sitting next to him."

A bench coach's exact duties vary from team to team and manager to manager, but with the Cubs, they will lean on Green initially to help Ross along with the experience aspect, making sure the game is not too quick for the first-year manager. During games, Green will be standing right next to Ross, weighing decisions and options along with pitching coach Tommy Hottovy.

But like other bench coaches, Green will also be tasked with helping to serve as a bridge between Ross and the Cubs players. In a lot of ways, Ross is the face of the franchise, as he will partake in somewhere around 500 media sessions throughout the course of the season, including before and after each game. Between that, addressing the team as a group, individual meetings with players and all the strategy and discussions with the R & D department and the front office, Ross will need to lean on Green to be his right-hand man off the field, as well.

It helps that Green just finished managing in the National League, where he knows the opponents and the game is quite different than the American League, which has the benefit of the designated hitter.

"He's a guy that understands all different aspects [of being a coach]," Preller said. "He understands some of the newer information, some of the newer technology. He's gonna understand things that have worked in the past in terms of preparing for games from an advanced information standpoint and then he'll draw upon his experiences being in the National League, knowing the league really well.

"I think he'll be able to give all those things to David Ross and to the Cubs players — somebody who comes in with the mindset of just trying to help the team out and help the team grow. All those things are going to be positives."

We'll see how quickly Ross and Green can jell together, but it's clear the Cubs believe Green can help expediate the process of preparation and in-game strategy for Ross, both now and in-season. 

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