Cubs

Cubs notes: Zambrano starts strong

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Cubs notes: Zambrano starts strong

Sunday, Feb. 27, 2011
Posted 7:10 p.m.
By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

MESA, Ariz. This was quiet, boring, efficient exactly the way Carlos Zambrano wants it to be this year. Hes not here to talk about the past, or make predictions or call himself the ace.

Zambranos already been bumped from what would have been his seventh consecutive Opening Day start. Hes handled the news well so far, and got through the first Cactus League game by throwing two scoreless innings in a 15-7 loss to the Oakland As at HoHoKam Park.

It was good to see him attack that strike zone, first baseman Carlos Pena said. It looked like he had a lot of confidence going. You cant say too much about the first game of spring training, (but) its always nice to see good things happen.

Thats where the Cubs are at with Zambrano, cautiously optimistic that he can again be a front-line starter. He struck out the first two As swinging and faced the minimum six batters. He says the addition of Matt Garza hasnt changed the equation for him.

I have to go about my business, Zambrano said. I have to pitch my game and go out there every fifth day and compete, give the best that I have to win that game. . Hopefully we can all stay healthy and do some damage.

The Cubs havent always been certain that theyll get that from Zambrano. Theyll take any small step in the right direction.

It was fun to watch him, manager Mike Quade said. I dont know what his velocities were, but it looked like he was throwing the ball as well as Id seen, (which isnt surprising), because when hes got adrenaline going, look out.

Piniellas shadow

Before his first game as a major-league manager last August, Quade referenced John Wooden, and how the legendary UCLA basketball coach would always talk about the process. That player-development idea guided his 37-game audition, and ultimately won him the job. It will be the same in the Cactus League, where Lou Piniella would take losses harder than most.

I care a little bit, (but) Im more interested in performance and progress, Quade said. If we come out here and execute and play well and somebody beats us, (then) thats ok. But Lou didnt like to lose at anything and he was incredibly competitive. You pick up on that very quickly, as does the club.

The players have picked up a different vibe under Quade, who didnt attach much significance to managing his first spring-training game, or leading his own club against an As organization that once let him go. He concedes that he diverges from Piniella in style, but not substance.

Were running the same fundamentals, Quade said. There may be some really subtle differences, but if you look at the schedule every day, you see its pretty much the same. And then its just about how a veteran manager goes about his day, versus how a young guy who wants to be a veteran manager someday goes about his. Our personalities are different, but theres no question that our goals are the same.

Coming up

Monday vs. Milwaukee Brewers in Mesa: RHP Randy Wells vs. RHP Tim Dillard, 2:05 p.m., WGN-AM 720. Cubs pitchers Andrew Cashner, Kerry Wood and Sean Marshall are also scheduled to throw. Tuesday at San Francisco Giants in Scottsdale: RHP Ryan Dempster vs. TBA, 2:05 p.m., Cubs.com audio broadcast. Quade plans to play Tyler Colvin at first base this week, perhaps as early as Thursday.

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

Albert Almora's strong connection to Team USA baseball

Albert Almora's strong connection to Team USA baseball

Who was Theo Epstein’s first draft pick with the Cubs?

The answer to that trivia question will always and forever be Albert Almora Jr. picked sixth overall in the 2012 amateur draft.

In some ways, the young outfielder from Florida became the forgotten man in the stable of can’t-miss prospects that Epstein and top lieutenants Jed Hoyer and Jason MacLeod amassed since their arrival over six years ago. While players such as Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ zoomed through the minor leagues on their way to the majors, Almora took a different path – one that included seven different stops over parts of five developmental seasons before he broke into the big leagues during the 2016 season.

But Almora’s road to the majors began years before he was selected by the Cubs, when he began playing for Team USA as a 13-year-old. Over the next several years, Almora played for the Red, White & Blue seven times, his final appearance coming in 2015. The seven appearances are the most in the history of USA Baseball, and Almora recognizes the impact his time with the national squad had on his playing career.

“[It was] one of the best experiences of my life," he said. "Every year I had something special to play with, unbelievable guys, went to crazy places, and out of those six years, five of them came with a gold medal so that was pretty special as well. Also, that helped me in my baseball life, how to experience things and learn from those type of experiences.

“I’m a Cubbie and that’s what’s on my chest right now, but Team USA will always have a special place in my heart.”

While Almora carries those national team experiences with him every day, his main focus coming into the 2018 season is becoming a consistent difference-maker. Almora made only 65 starts during the 2017 campaign, and 63 percent of his at-bats last year came against left-handed pitching, against which he hit a robust .342. That led to a platoon role in a crowded outfield, with Jason Heyward, Kyle Schwarber, Jon Jay, Ian Happ and Ben Zobrist all taking turns on the merry-go-round. But with the departure of Jay, Almora believes his time is near.

“I have the most confidence in myself that I can play every day, but I try not to think about that kind of stuff because it’s out of my control," Almora said. "All I control is like last year what I did; whenever I was given an opportunity, I tried to do my best and help the team win.”

Almora’s ultimate role on the 2018 Cubs remains to be seen, but there’s no question that Theo’s first Cubs pick will earn whatever role he ends up with, and the foundation of Almora’s journey to Clark and Addison was laid many summers ago during his time with Team USA.

Willson Contreras willing to pay the price for mound visits

Willson Contreras willing to pay the price for mound visits

News broke to Willson Contreras that the league will be limiting mound visits this upcoming season, and the Cubs catcher —notorious for his frequent visits to the rubber — is not having it.

“I’ve been reading a lot about this rule, and I don’t really care. If you have to go again and pay the price for my team, I will," he said.

The new rules rolled out Tuesday will limit six visits —any time a manager, coach or player visits the mound — per nine innings. But, communication between a player and a pitcher that does not require them moving from their position does not count as a visit.When a team is out of visits, it's the umpire's discretion to allow an extra trip to the mound.

But despite the new rules, Contreras is willing to do what's best for the team.

“There’s six mound visits, but what if you have a tight game? They cannot say anything about that. If you’re going to fine me about the [seventh] mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”