Despite Anthony Rizzo’s less-than-stellar start, Yankees take a sigh of relief

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Anthony Rizzo entered the season with a clean bill of health, a stark contrast to the post-concussion issues that plagued him and ultimately led to his shutdown last year. During spring training in Tampa, a rejuvenated Anthony Rizzo impressed in the Grapefruit League, feeling confident and optimistic about his ability to translate that form into the regular season.

Reflecting on the challenges of the previous season, Anthony Rizzo acknowledged the importance of strong spring training, particularly given his health struggles. He emphasized the value of pre-season preparation in ensuring his readiness for the upcoming year. Despite a slow start statistically, Anthony Rizzo remained upbeat. He attributed any early-season struggles not to lingering health concerns, but rather to the natural fluctuations in performance inherent to baseball.

“Spring training is spring training, but coming off how my year ended personally last year, I put a little more stock into this spring,’’ the first baseman told at the spring camp in March. “Just given how I was feeling last year. I told someone recently that if April comes and, God forbid, I don’t get off to the best start — and I’ve gotten off to many slow starts in my career — it’s not gonna be because any doubt creeps into my brain about not being healthy. Now it’s just about going and playing the regular season.”

As the Yankees geared up for their Saturday night clash against the Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium, Anthony Rizzo’s offensive production hadn’t quite taken off yet. He stood at a modest 7-for-31 batting average with a double, an RBI, three walks, and seven strikeouts, resulting in an on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) of just .572.

Anthony Rizzo’s homer flares hopes for rebound, consistency

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(AP Photo/John Munson)

Anthony Rizzo appears to be shaking off the rust after missing the final two months of 2023 due to a concussion. On Friday, he showcased his power with a single that caromed off the right-field wall. On Saturday, he delivered his first home run of the season in the thrilling 9-8 win over Toronto – a two-run blast that kissed the right-field foul pole.

The Yankees are counting on Anthony Rizzo to recapture his form, especially given his absence late last year. He emphasized the importance of consistent playing time for an athlete, highlighting the difficulty of being sidelined. While acknowledging some lingering mental hurdles, Anthony Rizzo expressed satisfaction with his current physical condition and his back health, which held strong last season.

However, despite recent successes, Anthony Rizzo’s overall statistics suggest room for improvement. This season, he hasn’t hit a ball harder than 103 mph. His average exit velocity (84.7 mph) and hard-hit rate (29.2%) are both below his career averages. Additionally, he’s hitting more ground balls compared to previous years, resulting in fewer fly balls.

This shift in hitting approach isn’t ideal for a left-handed power hitter like Anthony Rizzo, especially considering the continued use of it, which hasn’t necessarily provided him with an advantage. To maximize his impact on the Yankees’ offense, Anthony Rizzo needs to rediscover his ability to launch more home runs.

Anthony Rizzo and Anthony Volpe are at Minute Maid Park, Houston, on March 28, 2024, on the eve of the Yankees vs. Astros game.
NYY

While Anthony Rizzo has acknowledged a pattern of slow starts throughout his career, it’s worth noting his career on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) for March and April sits at a solid .841, nearly identical to his overall career OPS of .837.

“Your value as a player is in playing,’’ he said. “There’s nothing worse as an athlete than not playing. That’s when you really feel the worst. Even when you’re playing and going bad, it’s easier than not playing at all. So it feels good to be in this spot, all the head stuff is behind me and my back was really good last year when I was out there.”

There are signs of improvement, however. On Friday, Anthony Rizzo smashed a line-drive single to right field at a blistering 102.1 mph, hinting that he might be finding his groove.

Realistically, Anthony Rizzo may not replicate his past feats of reaching base nearly 40% of the time. However, with the Yankees’ offense in need of a spark, the pressure is on for the 34-year-old to elevate his performance beyond what he’s shown in the season’s early stages. The Yankees are counting on Anthony Rizzo to rediscover his consistent power hitting to bolster their offensive production.

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