Rizzo sounds as soft as his batting average

Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo on returning to the third spot

Anthony Rizzo was moved back to the third spot in the Cubs’ lineup against the Dodgers on Monday night. He went 1-for-4 and grounded into a double play. Inspiring, no?

But thank goodness his ego has been properly massaged.

In the five games before Monday, Rizzo had batted second, a blow to his ego, he said. But it was a boon to his average. During the bruised ego trip, Rizzo batted .292. Overall this season, he’s hitting .231. Sounds like his ego could use a GPS. Also sounds like Rizzo has confused the object of the exercise. Does this guy get it?

The supposed face of the franchise is obscured by a question mark weaving from his forehead to his chin, and you can’t help but think it’s not too far from turning into a big red X with a circle around it. I mean, this is the Cubs, right?

Is it Rizzo’s inability to hit major league pitching? Is it in his head? You could make a case it’s both. You have to hope he isn’t irretrievable.

As far back as April, manager Dale Sveum was demanding major-league execution and accountability from Rizzo and Starlin Castro.

"There's reasons why people play in the big leagues and have long careers, because they perform on an everyday basis,’’ Sveum said then. “There's reasons why a lot of (guys are) minor league players. You see it all the time; they can't perform at the big-league level. They're pretty good. They're really good players. But you put the third deck on the stadium and something happens.’’

And it has not been something good for Rizzo or Castro. Not much has improved on the field. What’s more, some of Rizzo’s recent comments off the field have sounded immature, if not downright whiny.

“Hopefully, I never go back,’’ Rizzo said of batting second. “It’s more, to be honest, an ego thing.

“I never hit second in my life. You think your second hitter of the game is someone who gets guys over and bunts and slaps. And I think our lineup doesn’t call for me hitting second. . . . I was there and tried to make the best of it.

“He’s the manager. He makes the calls. I just come in to play baseball.’’

Stop playing it badly, OK? And stop sounding weak. You wouldn’t expect that from a guy who has fought through so much, including cancer. But sorry, he sounds soft, especially after Castro went on mental walkabout recently and was benched while hitting as horribly as Rizzo.

“There are nine guys hitting every day, so it’s not just me and Castro’s responsibility,’’ Rizzo said. “It’s the entire team’s.’’

Excuse me, but this isn’t fantasy camp. You want to bat third, kid, you’d better deserve it. I don’t think the Cubs gave you those long-term millions so you could post the 86th-best OPS in the majors.

Batting third isn’t a birthright, although it seems to come with some enabling and/or coddling here. Sveum is batting Rizzo third because the future demands it. The manager said the Cubs’ job is to find a way to make Rizzo and Castro finish well this season so they can have happy thoughts in the offseason. Group hug, everybody.

Shortly after Rizzo tried to deflect accountability and responsibility for the mess he and Castro continued to make, Sveum had another message for Rizzo. It also sounded like a pump-the-brakes message for everybody who thinks 2015 will be the year the Cubs stop stinking.

Sveum’s remarks seemed to officially make an issue of Rizzo’s ability to handle the demands of being “The Man’’ emotionally, mentally and physically.

“Like I told Rizzo, fortunately or unfortunately, it’s part of the gig,’’ Sveum said. “And one thing you don’t want to have happen is not being the focal point.

“You always want to be the focal point when you’re in a big market.’’

Life in the big city is this: You can’t be the focal point when you fail to produce and then sound like you’re running from responsibility. Rizzo has the month of September and all of 2014 to show he ought to be considered part of the future instead of just another example of a sorry franchise’s overrated, underwhelming past.

 

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