Starlin Castro returned Wednesday night to the leadoff spot that served as a springboard to his success in 2011.
But Anthony Rizzo, batting second for the first time in his major league career, seemed to benefit more from the switch.
Rizzo, who was 2-for-24 in the first eight games of this 10-game homestand, smacked two home runs in the Cubs 11-6 loss to the Nationals.
Rizzo’s second home run, a two-run shot off Ross Ohlendorf, cleared the bleachers in right field and fueled a five-run rally in the fifth.
Rizzo, 24, also became the second youngest left-handed hitter in Cubs modern history to reach the 20-homer mark in a season. Billy Williams, 23, hit 25 home runs in 1961.
Although Rizzo didn’t comment directly on the change before the game, he benefited instantly as manager Dale Sveum made the switch to take pressure off what has been a frustrating season for Rizzo, who was batting .173 with runners in scoring position entering Wednesday’s game.
Rizzo fouled off two 3-2 pitches before hitting his first home run, and his second homer was the first of six consecutive hits by the Cubs, who were batting .108 with runners in scoring position in the first eight games of this homestand.
Meanwhile, Castro was happy to bat leadoff, one night after expressing his unhappiness over batting eighth for the first time in his career despite Sveum’s insistence that Castro wasn’t being punished. Sveum moved up Castro in hopes of replicating a semblance of the success he had there in 2011, when he had 102 of his 207 hits in 72 games from the top spot.
“I like batting first,” said Castro, who entered Wednesday’s game in a 1-for-27 slump on this homestand before singling in the third and took batting practice five hours before the game with Rizzo.
The biggest issue for Castro and the Cubs is finding a happy medium. Much of Castro’s early success stemmed from attacking pitchers early in counts but the Cubs prefer for him to become more selective.
“You can be more aggressive and have a lot more better pitches to hit,” Castro said of batting leadoff.
Sveum, meanwhile, said that Castro projects as a No. 2, 6 or 7 hitter in a lineup with dependable left-handed hitters and right-handed power hitters.
“(But) there’s too much hand-eye coordination and bat speed and things like that to not be something other than a second or sixth or seventh hitter,” Sveum said.
And the changes involving the Cubs’ two young stars were just another chapter in a goofy 2013 season.
“Like I told Rizzo, fortunately or unfortunately, it’s part of the gig,” Sveum said. “And one thing you don’t want to have happen is not being the focal point.
“You always want to be the focal point when you’re in a big market.”