Anthony Rizzo ticks all the boxes at spring camp, puts concussion woes behind

Anthony Rizzo is at the Yankees' spring training camp in Tampa in February 2024.

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Despite not being a coffee drinker, New York Yankees first baseman Anthony Rizzo knows what it feels like to be “out of it.”

During the first two months of the 2023 season, Anthony Rizzo was a crucial contributor to the team’s success, consistently performing at a high level. However, a seemingly innocuous collision at first base with Fernando Tatis Jr. of the San Diego Padres on May 28th had a lasting impact.

Unbeknownst to Anthony Rizzo at the time, he had sustained a concussion that significantly hampered his performance throughout the remainder of the season. His struggles continued until he finally ended his season on August 1st.

Thankfully, after receiving medical clearance and enjoying a normal offseason, Anthony Rizzo is feeling fully recovered and ready to return to his previous form. Nearly seven months removed from the collision, he’s back to his usual self and eager to contribute to the team’s success in the upcoming season.

Anthony Rizzo described the feeling of being up to speed as being akin to being alert and aware all the time. He likened it to the experience of a coffee drinker who hasn’t had their morning coffee, stating that before, it felt like trying to do anything before having coffee.

Yankees' first baseman Anthony Rizzo.
Charles Wenzelberg/NYP

The distinction became evident as Anthony Rizzo started preparing for the upcoming season. He made an early arrival in Tampa, spending several weeks training at the Yankees’ player development complex. This regimen involved engaging in batting practice sessions against live pitching.

The first baseman conveyed that regaining the ability to perceive the ball as he typically does and experiencing that clarity again was quite exhilarating.

While Anthony Rizzo’s absence from the lineup was significant following the August 1st diagnosis of post-concussion syndrome, the reality is that his performance had been hampered for several weeks prior.

Prior to the collision with Fernando Tatis Jr. on May 28th, Anthony Rizzo was experiencing a productive season. He had played in 53 games, batting .304 with 11 home runs and a .880 OPS, displaying his offensive prowess and contributing significantly to the team’s success.

However, unknown to him and the team at the time, the collision resulted in a concussion that significantly affected his performance. Over the next 46 games, leading up to the diagnosis, Anthony Rizzo’s batting average dropped to .172, he hit only one home run, and his OPS plummeted to .496. This decline clearly demonstrates the impact of the undiagnosed concussion on his abilities. Rizzo explained that during that period, he experienced cognitive sluggishness, which led to frustration when he missed pitches and felt unable to keep up with the game’s pace.

Anthony Rizzo’s return to bolster Yankees dugout

Anthony Rizzo of the New York Yankees

Following the offseason acquisitions of Juan Soto and Alex Verdugo, the New York Yankees lineup boasts increased depth, particularly with the addition of left-handed hitters. Anthony Rizzo, entering his age-34 season, is expected to play a key role in the batting order, batting fourth behind Aaron Judge.

If Anthony Rizzo can recapture the form he showcased in the first two months of the 2023 season, where he emerged as a significant offensive force, it could have a significant impact on the team‘s offensive strategy. Pitchers might be more hesitant to challenge Judge with a powerful hitter like Anthony Rizzo batting behind him, particularly with the threat of Juan Soto leading off the inning.

This scenario highlights the potential advantages of the Yankees‘ revamped lineup. With Anthony Rizzo providing protection for Judge and Soto offering his own offensive prowess at the top of the order, the team’s lineup presents a formidable challenge for opposing pitchers, forcing them to make difficult decisions throughout the game.

Judge remarked that if Anthony Rizzo is performing well and maintaining his current form, he would emerge as one of the top hitters in the game, particularly in accumulating RBIs. He emphasized on his friend’s composure at the plate during crucial moments, highlighting the importance of having a player like him who can consistently put the ball in play and drive it to all parts of the field. Judge expressed his enthusiasm about Anthony Rizzo’s return, noting his status as a Gold Glove first baseman and a key leader in the clubhouse.

He mentioned that when Anthony Rizzo is performing well, it positively influences the entire team.

Manager Aaron Boone expressed that he observed sufficient promising indicators even before the Grapefruit League games commenced, leading him to believe that Anthony Rizzo is indeed in good form.

Boone stated that Anthony Rizzo appeared satisfactory to him. He mentioned that he wasn’t overly focused on the outcomes. While there might be a slight expectation to witness his performance, Boone expressed confidence that the first baseman would be fine.

To add to his progress, Anthony Rizzo secured an RBI double during his initial spring game on Sunday. Following that, in Monday’s 9-2 victory against the Twins at Steinbrenner Field, he went 0-for-1 but managed to draw a walk. However, the first baseman stated that he didn’t rely on the game action to confirm his complete recovery.

Anthony Rizzo stated that spring training revolves around simply checking boxes. He emphasized that these are normal boxes, unlike last year when he was checking boxes to return to playing.

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