Yankees’ struggling first baseman takes accountability: ‘I need to be better’

May 23, 2024; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees first baseman Anthony Rizzo (48) follows through on an RBI sacrifice fly against the Seattle Mariners during the seventh inning at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

It has not been the bounce-back season that New York Yankees first baseman Anthony Rizzo was hoping to have so far. His struggles went from bad to worse Tuesday night against the Los Angeles Angels, as a critical fielding mistake that was later ruled a hit in the bottom of the eighth inning led to a go-ahead two-run double by Angels outfielder Taylor Ward that gave L.A. a 4-3 lead, a lead they wouldn’t relinquish in the ninth.

Anthony Rizzo’s error sinks the Yankees against the Angels

MLB: Houston Astros at New York Yankees
Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The 34-year-old has been known as an excellent defender at first base for his career, but it has been a struggle for him this season. He currently has zero outs above average, -1 defensive runs saved, and has committed three errors, which are the second-most among all first basemen this season and one shy of his total from last season.

Rizzo struggled at the plate as well, as he went 0-for-4 with a strikeout in the loss on Tuesday. In his last 10 games, the first baseman is hitting just .194 with a .250 on-base percentage and has no home runs in that span. According to The Athletic’s Chris Kirschner, Rizzo has the fourth-worst OPS out of all qualified first basemen this season.

Rizzo spoke about his rough game overall after Tuesday night’s loss and held himself accountable for making a critical mistake in a high-leverage situation.

“To the standard that I hold myself to, I need to be better,” said Rizzo to reporters (h/t YES Network). “I need to make that play. That one stings.”

Rizzo has struggled this season

The Yankees were hoping that a lineup change a few weeks ago that moved Rizzo from cleanup to the sixth hole would help him feel more comfortable at the plate. Unfortunately for them, that hasn’t happened up to this point, and the struggles are reaching a tipping point for a Yankees team that needs more production out of their corner infielders.

The injury to DJ LeMahieu early in the season essentially left the Yankees without a backup first baseman, but now that he has been activated off the IL, LeMahieu could see extended playing time at first base if Rizzo’s slump continues. Yankees manager Aaron Boone said last week that LeMahieu would be the regular third baseman upon his return, though he has extensive experience playing first base.

LeMahieu could see time at first base on days where they are facing a left-handed starting pitcher, which would also give Rizzo off days to mentally reset and hope that snaps him out of this funk.

If that idea doesn’t work, the Yankees have an option they can go to from the minor leagues later on. Ben Rice currently has a .871 OPS in double-A with the Somerset Patriots and has been viewed as a potential long-term answer at first base down the road. However, it is highly unlikely the Yankees let him skip triple-A and call him up to the majors anytime soon, so the guys that are currently on the roster will have to figure it out.

If Rizzo doesn’t get going soon enough, then the Yankees could have a massive problem on their hands as the midseason mark approaches.

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