The results of Anthony Rizzo’s MRI Tuesday were in line with what the Cubs expected: rib inflammation on his left side, around where the rib attaches to the spine.
That’s what has given him back spasms this Summer Camp, the team announced Wednesday. Rizzo has become familiar with that symptom in recent years.
But as familiar as the discomfort was, Rizzo described this season’s back issues as, "frustrating just because of how physically in-shape I felt I was. Just can’t control the flareups."
Rizzo shed about 25 pounds during the months long MLB shutdown.
“I feel really good for this year and for this sprint,” Rizzo said at the beginning of Summer Camp.
Now, Rizzo said he doesn’t expect to start the season on the injured list, but his back injury has dampened his certainty.
“I’ll do everything I can to stay off of it, obviously,” Rizzo said. “… Every game’s important. So, we’ve got to get off to a good start and hopefully I’m out there with the guys. I plan on it, but you can’t control it and you’ve got to be smart.”
If an IL stint is necessary, Rizzo would prefer it be for a few games early in the season, rather than extended time later. He’s done that kind of calculation before. In 2018 he missed eight games in April due to lower back tightness. But he said if the same injury had instead flared up late in the season, he would have played through the discomfort.
The calculation is a little different in a 60-game season.
“For me personally, I’m going to be pushing to get back as fast as I can and take the risk,” he said, “because the reward of being with the guys and playing alongside of them is worth it for me.”
For now, Rizzo is undergoing daily treatments. He said he isn’t hitting to limit the stress on his back as it heals, but he’s been tracking pitches to keep his timing sharp. On Wednesday, he tracked right-hander Tyler Chatwood, who started in the intrasquad scrimmage.
“Once these spasms break, it goes from severe pain to absolutely nothing,” Rizzo said. “So, I’m past the severe pain part. I’m not at the nothing stage.”
He’s somewhere in between.
Rizzo has been limited due to lower back tightness for a week. He showed signs of improvement on Sunday, when he took live batting practice without issue.
“Just didn’t recover the way I’d like it to,” Rizzo said.
So, he and the Cubs training staff shifted their focus back to strength and stability. The MRI will help them pinpoint Rizzo’s treatments.
The first baseman has a history of back injury, dating back to 2014. He left a game against the Reds in late August for lower back tightness and missed the next 18 games.
“I had little issues when I was younger,” Rizzo said, “but ‘14 was the first time I really missed time.”
Since that season, when he played 140 games, Rizzo has only dropped below 150 games once. Last season he appeared in 146. Rizzo said he’s been happy with how the Cubs medical staff has worked with him to manage his back issues.
“Obviously twisting and pounding and playing every day doesn’t help,” he said. “But that’s what I love to do. And I feel like, yes, every year there’s a back tightness (injury), but to play 150-plus games every year is always the goal. And I feel like I hit that on a year-in, year-out basis.”