By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo is one of the more connective people you will ever meet, with a smile that lights up a room and a personality that evokes communication and good times.
A perspective on good and bad times is what the friendly three-time All-Star Rizzo gives the inquiring minds who want to know how he was riding out a major slump.
“This is a game where you are going to have great ups and terrible downs,” Rizzo said. “So it’s how you handle all of that. You must stay even-keeled and know you must stick to what you are doing. You have to believe in yourself.”
Rizzo showed signs of coming out of his early season malaise Tuesday evening, hitting his first home run in two weeks in the Cubs’ 9-5 win against the Reds at Wrigley Field. It was only his second extra-base hit of May.
Work ethic and a commitment to excellence are ingrained in the process of Rizzo. Surviving cancer early in his baseball career certainly had an effect on the everyday outlook of him.
“The more you play, the more you realize baseball is not going to kill you,” Rizzo said about riding out slumps. “There are a lot of good things in life. You just keep staying with it, and things will turn. Our team is too good to stay this way. It is just a couple of guys get on and you get a nice hit. Hitting is contagious.”
Rizzo didn’t know it at the time, but he was predicting the future before Tuesday’s game against Cincinnati, one in which Chicago broke up for 13 hits. He broke out of a 2-of-16 slump with an opposite field single that one-hopped the left-field wall in the first inning.
The unofficial captain of the Cubs, Rizzo had hit a wall that he’d rarely encountered since his MLB debut with San Diego in 2011, when he hit .141 in 49 games. Prior to Tuesday, Rizzo had gone 9-of-70 (.129) in his last 18 games after opening the season with a .296 average through April 22.
Rizzo had a great road trip earlier in April and ended a 12-game hitting streak on April 24. Since the beginning of May, his power numbers had been almost non-existent, with no homers and just two RBIs in the first 12 games of the month.
With strength workouts every day hours before he goes to the ballpark a part of his daily regimen, what could possibly be the reason for the latest crash?
“He just looks slightly uncomfortable with the timing of the pitch right now,” manager Joe Maddon said. “I just think he is going through one of those moments. I just believe his timing and rhythm is a click off. I am not overly concerned because I have seen him do this before and get hot really quickly.”
Working hard throughout this downturn in play, Rizzo took his first rest from action in Game 34 of the season. Since last Wednesday, he’s had three off days — resting one game and two team off days.
Then on Tuesday, a little warm weather and a stiff 20 mph south wind were all it took for Rizzo and some of his teammates to look more like the Chicago wrecking crew of 2016.
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.