Cubs' catalyst Rizzo offers clinic on 2-strike hitting

First baseman fouls off five straight pitches before launching three-run homer

Cubs' catalyst Rizzo offers clinic on 2-strike hitting

CHICAGO -- If the Cubs are looking for a video to teach Minor Leaguers the benefit of a good two-strike approach, Anthony Rizzo gave them a perfect example on Monday night in an MVP-type moment.

"That was a fabulous at-bat -- that's what you're looking for," manager Joe Maddon said of Rizzo's at-bat which resulted in a three-run homer to spark the Cubs to a 5-1 victory over the Mets.

The Cubs had two on and one out against the Mets' Steven Matz in the third inning, and Rizzo took the first two pitches, then fouled off a changeup and took a sinker for a called strike. Rizzo fouled off the next five pitches -- a curve, sinker, slider, and two more sinkers -- before launching an 83-mph changeup into the right-field bleachers. It was his 22nd homer of the season, and gave the Cubs a much needed boost against their nemesis.

"When you continually frustrate a pitcher with two strikes, he doesn't know what to do -- 'Where am I supposed to throw this pitch?'" Maddon said. "That's when [the pitcher's] tendency is to make a mistake. You have to cull it down mentally. You can't go up there full throttle with two strikes without any kind of adjustment being made.

"When you get to two strikes, you have to adapt. If you want to take that same zero-zero hack into the two-strike approach, you're going to come back to the bench a lot. That's why the two-strike batting average is so low throughout the industry. I think it would climb a little if you go up there with a definitive plan with two strikes."

Maddon on win vs. the Mets

Rizzo came into the game batting .214 with two strikes against him. He choked up on the bat, which he admits he did more last season against left-handers, when he batted .294 against them (compared to .272 versus right-handers). Then, he followed the advice of hitting coaches John Mallee and Eric Hinske.

"It's just cat and mouse really," Rizzo said of his at-bat. "I'm really not doing anything particularly different. It's just approach."

It worked.

"You can talk about it, talk about it, talk about it, but a guy's out there on his own little island, 40,000 people yelling, thoughts jumping through his head," Maddon said. "Do you have the self awareness to make the adjustment or not? 'Riz' does."

Since June 18, he leads all big league first basemen in hits (36), batting average (.375), doubles (11), and home runs (seven).

"He's one of the best, if not the best young players I've gotten to play with," Cubs veteran David Ross said. "He's doing MVP-caliber stuff on a daily basis. Even when he goes in the tank a little bit, it doesn't affect his game as much. He still has a great at-bats, he takes his walks. He comes right back and has two four-hit games, and he's batting .300 again.

"He's our staple. [Kris Bryant] is a stud, too, and a lot of these guys are great, but for me, 'Riz' is the catalyst and the leader and the guy who is as consistent as he can get."

Is Rizzo an MVP candidate?

"A lot of the other guys grab attention, and Anthony just keeps doing what he does," Maddon said. "He's almost like old news because he's 26 going on 27. But this guy is the anchor of the group."

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.