Cubs

Cubs and Zambrano: Same as it ever was?

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Cubs and Zambrano: Same as it ever was?

Monday, Feb. 14, 2011Posted: 10:00 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

MESA, Ariz. Carlos Zambrano would often strut around the clubhouse last season wearing his T-shirt from the 2008 All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium. It felt like an old high school quarterback still wearing his varsity jacket years after the Friday nights lights were turned off.

A few teammates watched in amusement on Monday morning as the media gathered around his locker at Fitch Park, three or four deep, waiting to see if Zambrano would grant them an audience.

Zambrano is a great headline. But at this point, even he acknowledges that it doesnt really matter what he tells the cameras. Actions will speak louder.

I want to do more on the field than talk, he said. I dont want to say anything this year. I talk with my numbers.

The Cubs hadnt even begun their first official workout for pitchers and catchers and already it was time to dissect the latest state of Zambrano address, which lasted almost 11 minutes.

Zambrano revealed the most in what he didnt say. There were none of the clichd story lines you read about in spring training. He didnt boast about being in the best shape of his life, or worry about how his family perceives his tantrums, or claim to be a changed man.

Zambrano doesnt want to discuss the past (though he was scheduled to do a sit-down interview with ESPN). Mostly real and sometimes imagined, he can see the negative angles in questions.

Lets talk about this year, he said. I never talk about last year, what happened in the past. I want to talk about the good team that we have. I want to focus on this year and be a better player, a better pitcher. Thats what everybodys looking forward to.

Whether or not 2010 will go down as a turning point in Zambranos career, it will be remembered for the failed bullpen experiment, his confrontation with Derrek Lee, the suspension and anger-management treatment. It nearly overshadowed an 8-0 mark with a 1.41 ERA in his final 11 starts.

Mike Quades musical tastes run toward Led Zeppelin, and the manager doesnt want to completely turn down the volume on Zambrano and shut off his passions. Quade referenced a Rush lyric, freeze this moment, in describing the relative calm that came over the 29-year-old near the end of last season.

I would take that finish for six weeks and take the six months right now, Quade said. Book it who wouldnt? But thats an ongoing thing for Z and his development as an older (pitcher) learning what hes going to have to do body-wise, man-wise, all that stuff. Were all making adjustments. Were all getting older, (but) he looked like a young guy those last six weeks and I believe hes motivated.

Zambrano said he still loves playing in Chicago, which does mean something, because he has a no-trade clause in his 91.5 million contract. He said he isnt going anywhere, but added if I go to another team, Chicago will always be in my heart.

It would be far less interesting without him, because he can still make everyone smile with his one-liners.

Do you have anything to prove?

No, no, no. I leave that for the rookies.

What about the competition for the last two spots in the rotation?

Thats not my problem. Ill be there.

Of course, he said, I want to be the Opening Day starter, but its up to Quade, the man who really has to interpret Zambrano and his moods.

Hes more introspective than people realize, Quade said, especially when hes not toeing the rubber. Reflection is a great thing for all of us. Hes the only one that can address that specifically. Im not a psychiatrist or a psychologist. But you couldnt help appreciate the way he finished. That tells you a lot about somebody.

Thats the guy Im going to remember and thats the guy Im looking for.

PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

MESA, Ariz. — The first thing Kyle Schwarber told his new hitting coach?

"His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.'"

The Cubs hired Chili Davis as the team's new hitting coach for myriad reasons. He's got a great track record from years working with the Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics, and that .274/.360/.451 slash line during an illustrious 19-year big league career certainly helps.

But Davis' main immediate task in his new gig will be to help several of the Cubs' key hitters prove Schwarber's assessment correct.

Schwarber had a much-publicized tough go of things in 2017. After he set the world on fire with his rookie campaign in 2015 and returned from what was supposed to be a season-ending knee injury in time to be one of the Cubs' World Series heroes in 2016, he hit just .211 last season, getting sent down to Triple-A Iowa for a stint in the middle of the season. Schwarber still hit 30 home runs, but his 2017 campaign was seen as a failure by a lot of people.

Enter Davis, who now counts Schwarber as one of his most important pupils.

"He's a worker," Davis said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago. "Schwarbs, he knows he's a good player. His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.' He said last year was just a fluke year. He said, 'I've never failed in my life.' And he said, 'I'm going to get back to the player that I was.'

"I think he may have — and this is my thought, he didn't say this to me — I think it may have been, he had a big World Series, hit some homers, and I think he tried to focus on being more of a home run type guy as opposed to being a good hitter.

"His focus has changed. I had nothing to do with that, he came in here with that focus that he wants to be a good hitter first and let whatever happens happen. And he's worked on that. The main thing with Kyle is going to be is just maintaining focus."

The physically transformed Schwarber mentioned last week that he's established a good relationship with Davis, in no small part because Schwarber can relate to what Davis went through when he was a player. And to hear Davis tell it, it sounds like he's describing Schwarber's first three years as a big leaguer to a T.

"Telling him my story was important because it was similar," Davis said. "I was a catcher, got to big league camp, and I was thrown in the outfield. And I hated the outfield. ... But I took on the challenge. I made the adjustment, I had a nice first year, then my second year I started spiraling. I started spiraling down, and I remember one of my coaches saying, 'I'm going to have to throw you a parachute just so you can land softly.' I got sent down to Triple-A at the All-Star break for 15 days.

"When I got sent down, I was disappointed, but I was also really happy. I needed to get away from the big league pressure and kind of find myself again. I went home and refocused myself and thought to myself, 'I'm going to come back as Chili.' Because I tried to change, something changed about me the second year.

"And when I did that, I came back the next year and someone tried to change me and I said, 'Pump the breaks a little bit, let me fail my way, and then I'll come to you if I'm failing.' And they understood that, and I had a nice year, a big year and my career took off.

"I'm telling him, 'Hey, let last year go. It happened, it's in the past. Keep working hard, maintain your focus, and you'll be fine.'"

Getting Schwarber right isn't Davis' only task, of course. Despite the Cubs being one of the highest-scoring teams in baseball last season, they had plenty of guys go through subpar seasons. Jason Heyward still has yet to find his offensive game since coming to Chicago as a high-priced free agent. Ben Zobrist was bothered by a wrist injury last season and put up the worst numbers of his career. Addison Russell had trouble staying healthy, as well, and saw his numbers dip from what they were during the World Series season in 2016.

So Davis has plenty of charges to work with. But he likes what he's seen so far.

"They work," Davis said. "They come here to work. I had a group of guys in Boston that were the same last year, and it makes my job easier. They want to get better, they come out every day, they show up, they want to work. They're excited, and I'm excited to be around them.

And what have the Cubs found out about Davis? Just about everyone answers that question the same way: He likes to talk.

"I'm not going to stop talking," he said. "If I stop talking, something's wrong."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion

Carmen DeFalco (ESPN 1000) and Jordan Bernfield join Kap on the panel. Anthony Rizzo returns to the Cubs after an emotional weekend home while Tom Ricketts expects another World Series parade. Plus Hall of Famer Andre Dawson joins Kap to talk about his Cubs reunion and how the current crop unsigned free agents compares to his experiences with collusion.