Sports

Anthony Rizzo’s throwback approach at plate has added Yankees value

The Yankees were off for the day, the Cubs were on television and Marcus Thames couldn’t turn away from Anthony Rizzo’s at-bat.

As Rizzo fouled off pitch after pitch before finishing with the flourish of a home run during a May game for the Cubs, Thames probably felt hitting coach-envy witnessing a perfectly in-line approach with what he teaches for the Yankees. Flash forward a couple months and there was Rizzo, in his third home game at Yankee Stadium, battling his way to a 13-pitch walk Wednesday as Thames enjoyed a dugout view.

“I was just saying the pitcher had nowhere else to go,” Thames said. “It’s just wearing the pitcher down. He and his teammates get a chance to see every single pitch, and it helps you throughout the game. Being able to see every pitch from a guy makes you feel a lot more comfortable.”

Despite going hitless in four at-bats in a 5-3 win Thursday against the Mariners, Rizzo is hitting .333 with three home runs – one in his first at-bat after the 13th-pitch walk against the Orioles – and a 1.160 OPS through seven games since he was acquired at last week’s trade deadline.

Yankees
Anthony Rizzo
Robert Sabo

Rizzo has been the perfect fit in every way: His patience at the plate is reminiscent of great Yankees hitters who thrived on running up pitch counts and getting into middle relief, his left-handed swing balanced the right-handed-heavy lineup, his World Series-winning leadership took extra responsibility off others and his Gold Glove-winning defense solidified the infield.

“His approach at the plate is solid,” Thames said. “He knows what the pitcher is trying to do, he is going to stick with his plan, and he’s not going to let the pitcher dictate to get him off what he wants to do.”

Giancarlo Stanton, Joey Gallo and Aaron Judge all rank in the top 10 in the American League in pitches faced per plate appearance, so, where Rizzo’s patience might have stood out with the freer-swinging Cubs, it is the norm in the middle of the Yankees’ lineup. In the clubhouse, he might have needed five whole minutes to find his footing after 10 years in Chicago.

“I can’t say [I felt] instantly comfortable,” Rizzo said. “I think when you stay somewhere for so long, the sudden change is … just the unknown. I was able to lean on just playing baseball, not having to really change my game and what I do. It’s a lot easier when you guys are so professional and so welcoming.”

While Yankees fans have been wowed by Rizzo’s power surge, the real music to Thames’ ear was a conversation in the dugout with a runner on second base and no outs.

“He’s like, ‘I have to at least get that guy over. I want to knock him in, but if I can just get him to third with less than two outs we have a chance to score a run,’ ” Thames said. “Just those little things he’s talking to his teammates about is going to help us a lot.”

It’s a part of the game Rizzo enjoys.

“The baseball talk has been really nice, and even getting to know guys on a personal level,” Rizzo said. “It’s all new and it’s all fun. Just continuing to be myself and talk the game and give some of my experiences and learn from other guys’ experiences.”

Thames and Gallo spent extra time in the video room going over the finer points before Gallo’s go-ahead three-run home run Thursday provided his first big moment in pinstripes. With Rizzo’s hot bat, Thames’ goal is just to be the “extra set of eyes” and “stay out of the way.”

“I feel like with all the experience of just playing a lot of seasons has definitely paid off for this moment,” Rizzo said, “to just be able to come in here and play at this level, at Yankee Stadium, on this stage.”

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