6/18/2013 8:10 P.M. ET
Rizzo gets breather for first time this season
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
ST. LOUIS -- On Tuesday, Game No. 69 of the season, Anthony Rizzo rested.
The Cubs first baseman, who had started every game this season, was not in the starting lineup Tuesday against the Cardinals.
"It's nice to get a breather," said Rizzo, who was batting .157 this month with two extra-base hits.
Rizzo hasn't homered since May 18, and he's 3-for-14 in the last four games, including an 0-for-10 stretch in his last three games. He was batting .241 overall.
"Last year, I had a couple days off, and came back like I normally am," Rizzo said. "You're going to have good times and bad times, and it's one of the down times for myself personally. It's frustrating. The game is beating me up a little bit. I think it'll be nice to relax and enjoy the game from the bird's eye.
"I feel real close. It's just a matter of trying to do too much."
It's been nearly one year since Rizzo was promoted from Triple-A Iowa -- he made his Cubs debut last June 26 -- and one has to wonder if pitchers have figured him out. Cubs manager Dale Sveum said part of the problem is opponents have a better sample size for their scouting reports, and part of it is Rizzo's mechanics.
"Once you get a decent sample, the other teams know he's vulnerable to this or vulnerable to that, but the bottom line is we all know hitting comes down to when you get a good pitch, do something with it," Sveum said. "Just like [Starlin] Castro, you see him get a lot of good pitches, but there are a lot of foul balls back to the screen. You're putting the at-bat in the pitcher's hand once you've missed his mistake or two mistakes in an at-bat. It's not like Major League pitchers make three [mistakes] in an at-bat. You become vulnerable when you're not hitting mistakes."
Rizzo said pitchers are making him become even more patient at the plate.
"With the struggles going on, I'm still taking my walks," Rizzo said. "It's a matter of being patient and getting my pitch. I've gotten my pitches, and I'm not doing any damage with them."
Sveum dropped Rizzo to the fifth spot in the batting order on Friday, and he will likely keep the first baseman there. That's OK with Rizzo, who had batted third in 61 games and fourth in three games.
"I personally like hitting in the five-hole," Rizzo said. "There are a lot more RBI opportunities there, and that's what my job is, to drive in runs. But I also love the three-hole. I love hitting in front of [Alfonso Soriano] and getting on in front of him.
"It doesn't really matter. I think once everything gets going again, I'll be back in the three-hole. Wherever Dale wants to put me, he's the boss."
Nate Schierholtz has been the Cubs most consistent hitter lately, and has taken over the No. 3 spot for now.
Could part of Rizzo's problem be the new seven-year, $41 million contract extension he signed May 13? Since that date, he's batting .195 with one home run, nine doubles and 11 RBIs.
"I personally think that's all outside noise," Rizzo said. "My contract doesn't kick in until three years from now, to be honest. I put a lot of pressure on myself to perform -- it's baseball, I'm a competitor. No matter what I do, I want to win. In baseball, you fail most of the time, and it's a little frustrating. It's part of the game, and understanding this will beat you up."
Said Sveum: "I think it's time to let him kick back and take a breather."
Castro remains only player to start every game
ST. LOUIS -- With Anthony Rizzo sitting on Tuesday for the first time this season, the only Cubs player who has started every game is shortstop Starlin Castro. Manager Dale Sveum was thinking about giving Castro a breather last week, but not now.
"It's one of those things you kind of think about but don't do," Sveum said. "If it continues, or whatever, it might be one of those things where he needs to kick back and watch, too."
Castro was batting .241 overall and .153 this month. He has played 263 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the National League.
Sveum said he didn't see the struggles by Castro and Rizzo as "red flags."
"It'd be a red flag if maybe you were expecting young players who hadn't produced yet in the big leagues, but these guys have obviously produced," Sveum said. "We've seen Rizzo hit fastballs, we've seen him have a lot of success and hit good pitching, and all kinds of pitching. It's not a red flag that way.
"These guys will end up figuring it out. It's just one of those processes in their careers."
Cubs search for closer among pitching staff
ST. LOUIS -- Blake Parker totaled seven saves at Triple-A Iowa before he was called up to the Cubs. Although the right-hander doesn't have a save opportunity this season with the big league team, that experience at Iowa may pay off down the road.
"It's a funny business, closing [games]," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "First of all, you have to find somebody who can handle the last three outs. You hear me talk about that a lot, the makeup of somebody. Not to take away from [Edward] Mujica, but it's not like he has overwhelming or overpowering stuff. He doesn't walk anybody, he throws a split and a fastball. Over the years, you find [closers]."
Sometimes they come out of nowhere, like Joe Borowski, who saved 33 games in 2003 with the Cubs.
"It's not that easy, but you do find guys without paying big money," Sveum said.
Parker's Minor League saves could help.
"That's the process of how you do it," Sveum said. "You have to evaluate a guy's heart rate sometimes. The unfortunate part of it in the big leagues is that you have to experiment, and it's the last three outs of the game with a save on the line."
• Steve Clevenger was batting .385 in 11 rehab games with Triple-A Iowa, and Cubs manager Dale Sveum said they've talked about possibly adding him to the big league roster.
"It's an option," Sveum said of Clevenger, who has played two games at third, one at first, and eight games as the catcher at Iowa.
The only catch is, the Cubs have enough left-handed bats. Clevenger did open the season with the Cubs, giving them a third catcher. Sveum liked having the versatility to use Clevenger or Dioner Navarro to pinch-hit at any time.
Clevenger could've subbed at first on Tuesday when Anthony Rizzo was given a day off. Instead, Cody Ransom started there, the first time he's done so since one game last year with the Brewers. Before that, Ransom had not played first since three games in 2010 with the Phillies. Sveum has talked about giving shortstop Starlin Castro a breather, too. Who would start at short? Naturally, Ransom.
• Cubs No. 3 prospect Jorge Soler was placed on the seven-day disabled list Tuesday because of a sore shin. Soler is playing for Class A Daytona, batting .281 with eight home runs, 13 doubles, one triple and 35 RBIs in 55 games.
At Triple-A Iowa on Monday, Chris Rusin threw his first shutout, leading the team to a 2-0 win over Omaha. Rusin struck out eight, scattered five hits and walked one. He got all the offense he needed from solo homers by Donnie Murphy and Brian Bogusevic.
• Dropkick Murphys front man Ken Casey has been added to the Hot Stove Cool Music lineup, set to take place at Wrigleyville's Metro on Friday. Theo Epstein, Cubs president of baseball operations, Hall of Fame baseball writer Peter Gammons and Cubs broadcaster Len Kasper will join an all-star lineup of musicians and personalities for the second annual Chicago benefit concert.
Proceeds will benefit Chicago area non-profit prorgrams funded by Epstein's Foundation To Be Named Later, as well as victims of the Boston Marathon. A limited number of tickets are available, and can be purchased online at Metro Chicago.
Poi Dog Pondering, Brede Baldwin, Jimmy Chamberlin from Smashing Pumpkins, the Parkington Sisters, Scott Lucas from Local H, the Hot Stove All-Stars, and former Letters to Cleo vocalist Kay Hanley also will perform.
Hot Stove Cool Music was founded in 2000 by Gammons and former Boston Herald sports writer Jeff Horrigan. The biannual event has raised more than $5.5 million for Epstein's foundation. Foundation To Be Named Later was founded in 2005 by Epstein and his brother, Paul, as a means to create positive opportunities for disadvantaged children and families.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.