August 10, 2022

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Rivas making the most of opportunities with Cubs

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CHICAGO — Alfonso Rivas kept manager David Ross’ words in mind as he headed back to Triple-A Iowa last week. Ross explained the roster situation to the young first baseman and expressed the belief that Rivas would be back in the Majors before too long.

“It definitely gives you confidence, going down and kind of treating it as a temporary move,” Rivas explained. “Expecting to come back — he’s really good at communicating that. It helped me a lot.”

Over the weekend, Rivas was back at Wrigley Field and making an impact again for the Cubs. In Sunday afternoon’s 4-3 loss to the Pirates, he came off the bench, delivered a pinch-hit double and reached base twice. One day earlier, Rivas had three hits and drove in five as part of Chicago’s historic 21-run, 23-hit outpouring.

Rivas is an all-fields hitter with solid contact skills and plate discipline serving as his offensive calling cards. In Saturday’s rout, however, he pulled a pitch into the right-field bleachers with a swing so violent that it pulled him out of the batter’s box as he recoiled.

“He’s just a guy who’s always hit [and] always been consistent,” shortstop Nico Hoerner said. “Very consistent personality, great defender and someone I believe in a lot. I’m really happy for him.”

Hoerner has been familiar with the 25-year-old Rivas since facing off in their collegiate days at Stanford and Arizona, respectively. They were teammates with Yarmouth-Dennis in the Cape Cod League in 2017 and were both selected in the 2018 MLB Draft.

The Cubs landed Rivas from the A’s in January 2020 in exchange for veteran utility man Tony Kemp. The lefty-swinging first baseman earned his first promotion to the Cubs in August ‘21 and hit .318 in 18 games. The first pitch Rivas saw in the Majors was a 98 mph fastball from Dylan Cease. He laced it to center for a single.

“It’s just trusting that, keep producing and there will be opportunity,” Hoerner said. “He’s a special player.”

With Frank Schwindel holding down first base for the Cubs, the opportunities have been sporadic for Rivas so far this season. He made the Opening Day roster with a stellar spring (.978 OPS in 14 games), but had just four plate appearances through the first week. Rivas went 2-for-4.

After the Cubs’ game in Denver on April 15, Rivas was called into Ross’ temporary office at Coors Field. Righty Mark Leiter Jr. was up from Triple-A and had already been announced as the starter for the next day’s game. Rivas was the odd man out.

Ross let Rivas know the landscape.

“When guys walk in my office, I tell them the truth,” Ross said. “I’m just like, ‘This sucks. It’s nothing you’ve done. We need a pitcher and you’re the guy that has options.’ I think just being transparent, they understand. They’re big boys. They understand the game they’re in.”

Rather than sulk, Rivas went down to Triple-A Iowa and went 7-for-13 with two doubles and a homer in three games while awaiting his turn again. It arrived Friday, when outfielder Clint Frazier underwent an appendectomy and landed on the injured list.

After a late pinch-hitting appearance Friday, Rivas had the three-run homer and two RBI singles in Saturday’s win. He also showed off his defensive ability, chasing down a fly ball caught in a wild Wrigley wind and snagging it with a neat sliding catch near the mound.

“He’s just a ballplayer, man,” starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks said. “That’s it. The hands that he has, they work for him everywhere. At the plate, you can see he’s quick. And at first base, he’s unreal.”

Sunday’s game was not a pretty one for the North Siders, but Rivas again took advantage of his opportunities.

Rivas’ leadoff, pinch-hit double in the seventh put the Cubs in position to rally, but he found himself stranded on third. He was intentionally walked in the eighth — representing the game-winning run — but jogged off after Patrick Wisdom struck out.

It is a small sample, of course, but Rivas is now sporting a .500/.538/.833 slash line in his 13 plate appearances this season. His 87.5 percent contact rate and 4.8 percent swinging-strike rate are in elite territory. For his young career, he is now 5-for-8 as a pinch-hitter.

Ross has been impressed by Rivas’ steady approach both on and off the diamond.

“He’s pretty in-tune with what’s going on,” Ross added. “He understands that sometimes it’s an options game. Go down, have good at-bats. He was working on some stuff before he left, and came back and has contributed really well.”

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