Rizzo learning to conquer his fears

CHICAGO -- We all must overcome our fears and it has been no different for Anthony Rizzo in his quest to become a more complete power hitter.

It has taken a while, but as Rizzo has learned to not worry about the potential of looking bad on a two-strike pitch, it has enhanced his ability to go deep into counts while still being able to deliver results.

It doesn’t sound much different than the plan the Cubs had with Starlin Castro, but where the philosophy has failed with Castro, Rizzo seems to have finally adapted to what once felt unorthodox.

“It’s all a process,” Rizzo said. “With two strikes, you just have to trust yourself and not be scared to be punched out looking if they throw the pitch that you’re not looking for. And you have to be able to foul off those good pitches until you get one that you can put into play and drive.”

Heading into play Sunday, Rizzo was fifth in the National League with 4.21 pitches seen per plate appearance. Only 20 players see at an average of four pitches per at-bat.

Last season, Rizzo was 37th in pitches-per-plate appearance with 3.79 and in 2012 he didn’t even crack the top 60, showing that his progression in that department has been slow and steady.

Rizzo has completely bought into the concept that deep at-bats benefit not only the player, but the entire team.

“The more pitches you see, the more the pitcher has to work and that’s really, I think, the key to having success,” Rizzo said. “The more stressful at-bats you can put on that pitcher, the better off the team will be. It’s like when you have to face Yadier Molina and you know you have to make your pitches. That’s more stress on (a pitcher’s) arm, more stress on team, so if we can do that, one through nine, I think we will be good.”

This year, Rizzo is batting .284 after 41 games, with a .459 slugging percentage, seven home runs and 21 RBIs. Last year he batted .233 with a .419 slugging percentage, 23 home runs and 80 RBIs.

“It’s a battle every day,” Rizzo said. “One day I’m going to feel like I’m the best in the game and the next day I’m going to feel like I don’t deserve to be in the game. It’s just a constant battle and the more I play, the more I’ll progress and the more I’ll understand how to simplify it all.”

Offense is clearly at the core of the Cubs’ current rebuilding process and the offensive philosophy of seeing pitches, working counts and trusting your approach also seems to be coming into focus.

“I think the thing about two strikes is that you can’t worry about being in two strikes,” manager Rick Renteria said. “Once you alleviate that anxiety, your at-bats end up expanding a little bit. The reality is that if the pitcher hammers two pitches on the black down and away, you won’t do much damage (anyway). Why would I offer at those pitches?

“You still want to get into a position where you can handle pitches that you can take care of. In the end, not being worried about two strikes puts you in a position where you don’t get too anxious and the pitch counts end up going up because the pitcher doesn’t want to leave you a cookie.”