Back in the 2016 NLCS, a scuffling Anthony Rizzo broke out of his postseason slump by using Matt Szczur’s bat in Game 5 against the Dodgers.
Wednesday, it was Rizzo’s bat being borrowed, when teammate Joc Pederson used it in a 2-1 loss against Cleveland.
“It felt good,” Pederson said. “I used it in the cage and took it in the game, got some hits, so it’s pretty cool.
Whether Rizzo’s bat has anything to do with it, Pederson has been hot offensively since coming off the injured list earlier this month. Following Wednesday’s 3-for-5 showing, he’s 12-for-27 (.444) in seven games.
Now, if he can approximate the Cubs first baseman’s performance, playing every day and hitting lefties, the best might be yet to come for this Cubs lineup.
After a strong spring training, Pederson got off to a cold start. When he landed on the 10-day IL with left wrist tendinitis April 22, he was hitting just .137/.262/.235 — including a rough .077/.143/.077 slash line (1-for-13) against southpaws.
The results since his IL return have been promising, including a 4-for-5 line against lefties.
“Baseball is a strange game and sometimes it speeds up on you pretty quickly,” Pederson said. “Unfortunately, I was on the IL, but you've just got to make the best of each situation and get your mentals back locked in so that you're ready to go out there and compete and help the team win."
The Cubs have said they were going to give Pederson, who’s struggled against lefties in his career, an opportunity to play every day. It’s part of why he turned down other offers to sign with them this offseason. In February, he cited a candid conversation with David Ross where the manager laid out his expectations for the outfielder.
Ross was complimentary of Pederson Wednesday.
"Joc’s done great," Ross said. "He's pulled his hands in well when they're trying to pitch him in. He’s stayed on some lefties and is taking some balls up the middle and the other way. It's been a whole-field approach."
Pederson's two hits off a lefty Wednesday were to left and center field
There may not be a time better than now for Pederson to get hot. The Cubs recently climbed above .500 after being four games under, before dropping back to two games under after Cleveland swept them.
The Cubs are trying to get rolling with a number of key players out. Ian Happ, Nico Hoerner, Jake Arrieta and Jake Marisnick are all on the IL, although Hoerner and Arrieta are expected to return Friday.
In the meantime, a lefty that hits well could carry them for a while. Their lineup has always been built around Rizzo, a lefty slugger with a good eye for the plate.
If you throw in another lefty who can hit left-handed pitching, it really lengthens a lineup featuring Rizzo, Javy Báez, Kris Bryant and Willson Contreras.
“We're close,” Pederson said. “Things are coming, pitching has been great. We’re moving in the right direction.”