It's official: Anthony Rizzo is the latest magician to enter the Cubs clubhouse.
Though, we've known his propensity for magic for a while:
Joe Maddon is a huge fan of mixing things up for his teams from the monotony of an exceptionally-long season. That's why he brings in zoo animals or magicians or any of his "Madd Scientist" drills.
Tuesday, he decided to employ Rizzo as the "distraction" of sorts by taking the slugger from the heart of the Cubs order to the top.
Thus marked the second run of "The Greatest Leadoff Hitter of All Time."
"I really thought we needed something like a 20-foot python, a magician or a breakdancer in the clubhouse, so instead, I chose to hit Rizzo leadoff," Maddon said. "I thought it might pick the boys up a little bit. Tough series against Milwaukee. I didn't think we were on top of our game [Monday]."
It worked immediately, as Rizzo sent the first pitch from Rockies starter Jon Gray high into the night sky and out into the first couple rows of the left-field bleachers for a wind-aided homer (StatCast predicted only a hit percentage of only 1 percent on the ball). But that was all for Rizzo, as he grounded out twice and popped out his other three times up.
"Obviously i got a little lucky there with the wind," Rizzo said. "You go up there, it's 2-0, you should probably take a pitch, but Joe put me up there to swing and hit. Just go up there loose and have fun."
The Cubs, meanwhile, couldn't manage another run Tuesday night in a 3-1 loss to the Rockies.
Before Maddon wrote out the lineup card, the Cubs woke up Tuesday riding the high of a five-game winning streak, but the offense was certainly not firing on all cylinders over that stretch — setting a franchise record for wins in a row while scoring 3 runs or less in each game.
Rizzo also has been mired in a season-long slump sandwiched around a stint on the disabled list for a low back issue. He finished Tuesday's game with a .154 batting average and .489 OPS in 78 at-bats.
Maddon also wanted to give Albert Almora Jr. and Javy Baez — who have been filling the top of the order the last week-plus — a day off and somebody had to be that "power source" to give the lineup energy from the leadoff spot.
The Cubs' unofficial captain was all for it, smiling and joking at his locker before the game about getting back to the spot he filled admirably in the middle of last season for about a week.
"Probably be a little bit more loose, just leading off," Rizzo said. "It's something I don't get to do all the time."
That's exactly what Maddon's hope was — to loosen Rizzo up. And it worked to an extent.
"The whole thing is [a mental adjustment]," Maddon said. "It's all about the mind. He really hasn't been doing that badly. He's hit the ball pretty well — hitting into the shift decently. He's fouled off his pitch a couple times.
"For the most part, he does like [leading off]. That's a big part of it and he is a big kid. He understands the fun about the game."
As a funny side story, Maddon's protege Davey Martinez decided to run the same gamut with the Nationals lineup Tuesday, leading off Bryce Harper (who also homered). Though, that was more strategy-based in hopes of avoiding intentional walks to Harper.
From a Cubs perspective, it's gotta be a tough look for Rockies picher Jon Gray to immediately start Tuesday's game off by facing the two toughest hitters in the lineup — Rizzo and Kris Bryant — though Gray was unstoppable after Rizzo's leadoff dinger, allowing only two other hits.
Maddon is hoping something light-hearted and fun like this will be the mental reset Rizzo needs to get going.
It's also coming on a perfect day, as the calendar flipping to May and the weather warming up could also be the triggers Rizzo needs. A new month often brings new feelings of hope for baseball players.
"Winning definitly helps cope with [individual struggles]," he said. "In the game of baseball, you have good days, you have bad days, you have good weeks, bad weeks, good months, bad months. I'm hoping to look at April as a quote-unquote best month of just learning, learning what happened.
"Hopefully May 1st is a new story, right?"