Baseball / Sports

Bunts pay off for Anthony Rizzo, but Cubs lose to Cardinals

ST. LOUIS -- Give Anthony Rizzo the left side of the infield and he will take it.

The Cubs' No. 3 hitter, known more for his power, took advantage of the Cardinals' shift Thursday when he placed two bunt singles down the third base line.

One of them led off the fourth inning and set up Starlin Castro's two-run homer in the Cubs' 5-3 loss, and Rizzo said he will continue to bunt if the defensive alignment and score dictate it.

"We almost made them pay twice for that," said Rizzo, who also bunted with two outs in the first and moved to second on Castro's single before being stranded.

Rizzo, who hit 23 home runs last season, executed a bunt single to start the seventh inning of a 2-0 loss at Yankee Stadium on April 16. He said he only works on his bunting during the first two pitches of every batting practice session.

"He's really looking at the game from a lot of different angles now," manager Rick Renteria said. " Down four runs, solo home runs are really not going to do a whole lot for you. (If) you can start the line moving, why not?"

The middle of the Cubs' order -- Rizzo, Castro and Luis Valbuena -- reached base nine times on seven hits and two walks. But the Cubs managed only one other hit -- a Junior Lake single in the sixth.

Rizzo had a quick answer when asked if he would bunt Saturday when facing Brewers pitcher and former teammate Matt Garza, who certainly isn't known as a slick fielder.

"If I'd bunt, I'd bunt it right back to Garza," Rizzo joked. "No, they don't play shifts."

On second thought: Jason Hammel said it was a kiss of death when he relied on his curve to strike out the side in the first.

That's because his lack of fastball command deserted him in the second inning and led to the Cardinals scoring four runs.

"First inning was nice, but I was still up in the zone, and it caught up to me in the second," said Hammel, who walked two in the second and paid the price. One run scored on a groundout, winning pitcher Michael Wacha followed with a two-run single and Matt Carpenter knocked Wacha in with an RBI double.

"I got behind (Wacha) with two wild ones," Hammel said. "You have to attack. I was aggressive but not quality aggressive."

Rotation roundup: Jake Arrieta will have his next start pushed back to May 22 so Hammel and Jeff Samardzija can stay on their normal four days' rest between starts with Monday's day off.

Hammel and Samardzija will both start against the Yankees, with Hammel scheduled to oppose Masahiro Tanaka in Tuesday night's opener at Wrigley Field.

Stay in the park: Playing in cold weather and large ballparks hasn't hurt, but most of the damage against the Cubs' pitching staff has come in small doses.

The Cubs have allowed 26 home runs, the second-fewest in the majors, and opponents' slugging percentage against them also ranked second at .360 entering play Thursday.

"Staying away from slugging percentage for us is big," pitching coach Chris Bosio said. "We try not to be predictable. (Pete) Vuckovich, (Paul) Molitor and (Robin) Yount taught me that you have to be able to throw a pitch at any time. And being a major league pitcher is being able to throw a 2-1 or 3-1 breaking ball.

"But our guys also have the ability to reach back and get a fastball in the 92 to 93 mph range, and a couple of them go even higher. When you're not predictable, the hitter is less apt to take big swings. That's why we're able to do that."

Bosio acknowledged the weather conditions in the National League Central, as well as the American League East and NL East, has some influence.

"(But) the organization has done a good job of recognizing that with some stats (on) how the batting average can change on power arms," Bosio said. "This organization has made no secret, like a lot of clubs, when you have the power arms, you have the opportunity to get strikeouts in key spots and not rely all the time on your defense. But when you can add great defense to power arms, that's an equation to success for any club."

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