Cubs

Mooney: The Zen of Carlos Zambrano

Mooney: The Zen of Carlos Zambrano

Tuesday, March 8, 2011Posted: 6:40 PM
By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. Are you a new man? You are asking the wrong question, Carlos Zambrano says.

Has the anger-management counseling helped? Yes, Zambrano says without much hesitation.

Zambrano sees a fundamental difference between those two ideas. Thats how hes framed the maturity issues that have too often sabotaged the Cubs.

Of course, all this is much easier to say on March 8 during the middle of yet another meaningless exhibition game.

But Zambrano pitched well again in Tuesdays 4-0 loss to the Colorado Rockies. Just as important, he virtually ignored the shaky defense behind him at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick.

I have to do my job, Zambrano said. I dont worry about anybody (else). This year I want to concentrate on what I can do. I dont want to worry about left field, center field, whatever. I want to worry about whats going on at the mound.

Zambrano does not want to change his entire personality. Family is central to his life and he has a good sense of humor, recently joking that he was cured and received approval from the psychologist to be alone by himself.

But Zambrano would like to remake his image. He openly acknowledges that he needs to better control the emotions churning inside. Hes got to the point where he felt comfortable exchanging text messages with Carlos Silva after Mondays brutal start.

The two are good friends, but they had pretty much avoided discussing any similarities between their disputes with Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez.

I told (Silva) to relax and just be the same guy that he was in Minnesota, Zambrano said. Dont let anything affect your preparation for the season.

Whoever needs a little bit of support or tips Ill be there for anybody.

Mike Quade will back Zambrano because he needs another front-line starter. The manager owes a lot to Zambranos 8-0 finish to 2010.

Im aware of everything that happened in 19-whatever with this organization, but none of it applies this time, Quade said. Im here every day living in this moment and looking forward and not looking back. (Hes been) fantastic this spring. He was really good for us and for me last year at the end of the season. So theres no reason for me to look anywhere but at that.

Its not unique to Z. When things come up, you deal with it. But I certainly dont sit around going: Are things going to get crazy? When? No, Im just happy when things are smooth. And when theyre not, we deal with them and move on.

Zambrano, who had mentioned that his right arm felt tired after his last start, said that physically hes back to normal. He lasted three innings, scattered five hits and allowed his first run of the spring.

The Cubs werent charged with any errors on Tuesday, but they again showed that defense will be an ongoing issue. Blake DeWitt had trouble handling two balls at second. Scott Moore had to make two nifty plays at first off wild throws. One ball bounced in front of a charging Tyler Colvin in left.

It wont matter as much when Zambrano throws like this: Carlos Gonzalez got so tangled up on one check swing that he struck out and fell into the dirt, flat on his stomach.

The Rockies slugger hit 34 homers and drove in 117 runs last season, and Zambrano correctly quoted his average (.336) off the top of his head.

We cant give up to big hitters, Zambrano said. I have my best stuff for them.

At the end of the third inning, Zambrano walked off the mound and past Quade, who was sitting on a cooler. They locked hands. Their high-five turned into a kind of extended handshake. At that moment it all looked good in the Cubs dugout.

Changed man? Zambrano said afterward, repeating the question. No, Im the same.

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.”