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Rizzo returns
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - While Pittsburgh Pirates Gregory Polanco made his major league debut Tuesday night against the Chicago Cubs, another former highly anticipated player stole the show at PNC Park.

Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo went 3-for-4 with two doubles, a home run, three RBI and three runs in Chicago's 7-3 win over Pittsburgh. He is now tied for the NL lead in home runs among first basemen with Paul Goldschmidt.

Fantasy owners eagerly awaited Rizzo's arrival two years ago after he hit .342 with 23 home runs and a 1.101 OPS in 70 games with Triple-A Iowa. Chicago finally called him up on June 26 and he batted .285 with 15 home runs and 48 RBI in 87 games.

But everyone who paid for a Rizzo breakout last season was left with a first baseman who hit .233 with 23 home runs, 80 RBI and a .742 OPS.

It may be a year late, but Rizzo is making up for 2013.

In 61 games, he has hit .284 with 13 homers, 36 RBI and a .920 OPS. He's scored 42 runs, which is tied for second among first basemen, even though he plays for a team that ranks 25th in the majors in runs.

Let's see what he's doing differently.

1. Improved plate discipline

Rizzo has seen 4.16 pitches per plate appearance this season, tied for 15th- most in baseball and up from 3.78 last season.

He's increased his walk rate from 11 percent in 2013 to 15.8 percent in 2014.

Rizzo has gone from chasing 30 percent of pitches outside the strike zone last year to 25.9 percent this season, and he's offered at fewer pitches in the zone.

Letting strikes pass could be troublesome because it allows the pitcher to get ahead, but Rizzo has batted .226 with two strikes this season after hitting .158 with two strikes in 2013. That includes a .250 average after going down 0-2 in the count. He batted .131 following 0-2 counts last season.

2. Squaring the ball up more often

Rizzo's line-drive rate of 19.6 percent was below league average in 2013 and he popped up to the infield on 9.9 percent of his fly balls. He also hit just .250 with 37 extra-base hits on 182 fly balls (20.3 XBH%) and had a 12.6 percent HR/FB.

As a result, his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) was .258, ninth- lowest in baseball among qualified hitters.

In 2014, Rizzo has roped line drives at a rate of 23.5 percent, popped up on just 1.8 percent of his fly balls and hit .375 with 17 extra-base hits on 57 fly balls (29.8 XBH%). His HR/FB is 22.8 percent and his BABIP is .312 this season.

3. Crushing left-handers

Left-handed pitchers neutralized the lefty-swinging Rizzo in 2013, holding him to a paltry .189 average with seven home runs and a .625 OPS.

But no longer can opposing managers feel confident bringing in a lefty specialist to face Rizzo.

In 2014, he's hit .344 with five home runs and a 1.069 OPS against like-handed pitchers.

His home run Tuesday night came off lefty Francisco Liriano, a pitcher who had held him to two hits in 17 at-bats (.118) prior to Tuesday.




Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Thomas J. Harrigan at tharrigan@sportsnetwork.com.

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