I was all set to write yet another funeral dirge of a recap, bemoaning both Kyle Hendricks’ inexplicable fall to the bottom rungs of MLB pitching and the Cubs’ inability to score runs at all in the team’s 10-0 loss to the Braves Wednesday night... and then Anthony Rizzo made us all smile.
Rizzo entered the game to pitch in the seventh inning. This is something we never expected to see again. Rizzo had pitched against the Diamondbacks in 2018, and at the time, after retiring the only hitter he faced (AJ Pollock, on a fly ball to center field), he said that was it for his pitching career:
#Cubs Maddon on Rizzo: "He actually conceded he'll never want to pitch again. ... He's going for the greatest leadoff hitter and relief pitcher in the same season."— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) July 24, 2018
But here we are, in a season where Cubs starting pitchers have averaged the fewest innings of any team in baseball and where the bullpen has been overworked, and so with the score already 10-0 after six innings, Rizzo took the mound again.
Johan Camargo grounded to first base — Rizzo dutifully went from the mound to cover, but Matt Duffy, subbing for Rizzo at first, made the play himself. Rizzo then walked Ronald Acuña Jr.
And then, the matchup everyone wanted: Rizzo vs. Freddie Freeman. The two had a bit of fun in Chicago on April 18, when Rizzo was mic’d up and yelled “FREDERICK!” at Freeman while getting him caught in a rundown.
On a 61 mile per hour “curveball”!
Sorry, Gameday, I don’t think those were “sliders.” But as you can see on the video clip, both Rizzo and Freeman got a huge laugh out of it, and I did too, watching at home. I hope you did too. This Cubs season has been pretty much devoid of happy things, thus far. The team needed that. Rob Friedman, the “Pitching Ninja,” had some fun with this, too:
Anthony Rizzo, 74mph Heater and 61mph Hammer, Overlay. pic.twitter.com/taPQax4pvT— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 29, 2021
They’re both right about having fun in the game. Sometimes I think we forget that. Rizzo’s so good at that, one reason he’s a beloved team leader.
Anyway, Rizzo’s mound job done and his career ERA still at zero, now with one full career inning pitched, he went back to first base and Duffy took over on the mound. Duffy got Marcell Ozuna to hit a comebacker to end the inning. Eric Sogard came in to throw the eighth, recording two quick outs, then loading the bases on two singles and a walk. But he got Camargo to fly to left to end the inning.
This was the second time the Cubs had used three position players to finish out a blowout. The other time was July 20, 2018, when Tommy La Stella, Victor Caratini and Ian Happ threw the last 3⅓ innings of what eventually was an 18-5 loss to the Cardinals. But those three allowed three runs. Wednesday night’s trio held the Braves scoreless. So, progress?
I’m kidding, of course, but really, we need some comic relief with how comically bad the Cubs have become. They’ve lost five in a row for the first time in David Ross’ managerial tenure, been shut out three times in that stretch and been outscored 33-10.
One note on Rizzo from his 2018 pitching appearance is worth repeating:
#Cubs Anthony Rizzo is the first left-handed throwing player to play first base, second base, and third base and also pitch during his career since George Sisler, who last played in 1930.— Ryan M. Spaeder (@theaceofspaeder) July 24, 2018
It is a baseball truism that no team is as bad as they look when they’re on a losing streak, nor is any team as good as it looks when it’s on a winning streak. You know and I know that this Cubs team still has a tremendous amount of talent on it. World Series talent? Maybe not, but I believe they still have a chance to contend in an NL Central where no one has taken command. Every team in the Central lost Wednesday night, so the Cubs remain four games behind the first-place Brewers, even looking up from the divisional basement.
The only other thing really worth discussing from this game is Hendricks’ poor outing. Sara Sanchez wrote about this yesterday. Josh Timmers wrote about it here last night. I’m not sure I have anything to add to those articles other than to say: Before 2021, Hendricks had a seven-season, 174-start track record of success, with two Top-10 Cy Young Award finishes and 21 bWAR. Barring injury — and I don’t think he’s injured — it simply doesn’t seem possible that he could have gotten this bad, this quickly. April 2021 is now the worst calendar month of Hendricks’ career (7.54 ERA, 1.765 WHIP, 10 HR allowed), edging out June 2018 (7.03 ERA, 1.685 WHIP, 15 walks in 24⅓ innings). Even with that bad June in 2018, though, Hendricks wound up with a 3.44 season ERA and 1.146 WHIP, with 3.2 bWAR. It’s not too late to right his ship.
But they had better figure this out quickly.
One last thing about Rizzo’s pitching appearance, a quick plug, if you don’t mind: When Rizzo pitched in 2018, the folks at Breaking T and I created this “LET RIZZO PITCH” T-shirt. It’s still available if you want to get your own.
The Cubs will try to avoid being swept by the Braves Thursday evening. Adbert Alzolay gets the start for the Cubs and Bryse Wilson will go for Atlanta. Game time is again 6:20 p.m. CT and TV coverage is via Marquee Sports Network, and also on MLB Network outside the Cubs and Braves market territories.