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Rizzo wants Cubs to develop winning attitude

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013 10:19 a.m. CDT

(MCT) — MESA, Ariz. — Anthony Rizzo was checking out the Cubs-Dodgers score on the Internet during his day off Monday, content with the knowledge the Cubs had opened up an early lead.

A few hours later, when he got back online, Rizzo discovered the Cubs had lost 7-6.

No big deal, of course. It’s just a meaningless spring training game. But in Rizzo’s mind, it’s important for the Cubs to establish a winning atmosphere now, hoping it pays off later.

“It’s something where we want to build that energy and have that all year ‘round,” he said. “Even though it was spring training, and even though it was the later innings of the game that we lost, it doesn’t matter. Some of those guys (playing) in later innings may be helping us down the stretch this year.”

If that’s the case, then shouldn’t Cubs hitters change their approach at the plate in spring training to win games?

Not exactly.

“The other day I had a runner on third and less than two outs,” Rizzo said. “In a normal situation, I’d be hacking away if I got a strike. That’s a little different right now (in spring). But I think as spring training goes along, you start getting more into the habit of getting that guy over, no matter where the pitch is and what not.

“Right now it’s more about getting yourself comfortable first, but at the same time, keeping that winning mentality.”

Spring records are seldom a precursor to the regular season, though a 15-7-2 record last spring gave a young Athletics team some much-needed confidence. The A’s wound up going 94-68 and winning the American League West.

The Cubs beat the Rockies 4-2 on Tuesday to start out their Cactus League season 3-1.

There’s no real reason to compare the 2013 Cubs to the 2012 A’s, except for the fact no one believed in either team in the spring. Rizzo knows all too well that few expect the Cubs to shock the world.

“Of course not,” Rizzo said. “But I don’t know when the last time was that a front-runner actually won, in all sports, besides the (2011-12 Miami) Heat. And even they lost in the (finals to the Mavericks) two years ago. On paper our rotation looks very solid and our bullpen, which was very weak last year, has improved. And we all got a year older, so we’ll see.”

Rizzo, an integral part of the core, will spend a few more days in Cubs camp before reporting Monday to Team Italy, representing the country of his ancestors during the World Baseball Classic. Barring a major upset — Italy plays in a bracket with the United States, Mexico and Canada — he will be back with the Cubs after only one week.

While 2012 was a breakthrough season for Rizzo as he hit .285 with 15 home runs in 87 games, it was a miserable year for the franchise, which lost 101 games and featured a September rotation that would be hard-pressed to compete at the Triple-A level.

“We had a great team in the clubhouse and we had fun and a good time, but now all that’s on the backburner,” Rizzo said. “I think (manager Dale Sveum) said it best — ‘No matter if we were .500 or won only 61 games, we still weren’t making the playoffs.’

“That’s the mentality we have, make the playoffs, no matter whether you have to win 100 games or a play-in game or whatever. Who knows what could happen from there?”

An improbable dream, perhaps, but the Cubs aren’t too proud to dream.

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