Cubs

No disrespect? Cubs pick up Zambrano

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No disrespect? Cubs pick up Zambrano

Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Posted: 10:24 p.m. Updated: 11:48 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

HOUSTON Carlos Zambrano already started walking several steps off the mound before Mike Quade could get there. It looked like a power play, the pitcher handing his manager the ball on the infield grass on the way to the dugout.

This is what makes Zambrano so unpredictable. This is what tests the organizations patience. It was all there for everyone to see on Wednesday night at Minute Maid Park. Except Zambrano, who didnt even realize what he just did.

Zambrano was so caught up in an inning spinning out of control that Kerry Wood had to point it out to him. Zambrano watched the replay and felt compelled to go over to the Cubs managers office and apologize to Quade after a 9-5 win over the Houston Astros.

I didnt mean that, Zambrano said. Believe me, the last thing that I want to do this year is disrespect the manager.

Zambrano showed his entire range in the sixth inning. It started with the home run he crushed off the faade in left-center field, some 412 feet away. He pointed up at the black sky as he crossed home plate.

To that point, Zambrano had thrown five scoreless innings. His teammates had given him a 5-0 lead before he threw a single pitch.

Yet when Brett Wallace singled a 3-2 pitch into left field to make it a 6-2 game, Zambrano immediately gestured toward home plate, kicked at the rubber and snapped the ball when it was flipped back to him.

Once Matt Downs hammered another 3-2 pitch beyond the high wall in left-center field for a two-run homer, the Astros had sliced the deficit to one. Zambrano walked one more batter and that was it.

During Game 161 last season in Houston, Zambrano turned away from Quade when he handed the ball to his manager and sulked off the mound. Quade defused that situation and did the same late Wednesday night.

I didnt get there quick enough, Quade said. He was ready to go and I should have been sprinting there. Just hand me the ball. Just dont drop the ball. (I) dont really care. I was hoping he wouldnt run me over.

Look, he was upset. I was upset. Everybodys upset. Lets just have a nice exchange. Lets not fumble the handoff and itll be ok. Lets hope were better next time.

Within the past week, Zambrano suddenly looked more reliable with the Cubs rotation down two pitchers. The Cubs dont yet know what theyre going to do with the fifth starters slot next week.

Jeff Samardzija, who threw three innings out of the bullpen on Tuesday night, became an option for a spot start, and so is James Russell or someone outside the 25-man roster. But long-term the Cubs see Samardzija as a reliever and dont want to mess too much with his role yet again.

Given all that uncertainty, the Cubs will need Zambrano (2-0, 6.11 ERA) to keep everything in check.

Zambrano was gracious when Quade named Ryan Dempster the Opening Day starter and didnt take it as a snub.

The past few days you could see Zambrano salsa dancing in the clubhouse or cracking up on the couch watching Eastbound & Down with his teammates.

Zambrano was almost becoming boring in his postgame news conferences. Whether or not you believe in a new Zambrano, he quickly took responsibility for his actions.

Q is a great guy, Zambrano said. It was my mistake. I think next time I will wait (longer). In fact, next time I will wait for the reliever, too. Theres no problem.

The Cubs (6-6) have a strong sense of team and would probably want you to focus elsewhere. The top of the lineup looks like it could be here to stay. Starlin Castro (.389) and Darwin Barney (.345) combined for eight hits and seven runs this series.

Alfonso Soriano hit his fourth home run of the season. Jeff Baker continues to mash left-handed pitching. The bullpen Marcos Mateo, Sean Marshall, Wood and Carlos Marmol did not allow a run or a hit in 3 13 innings.

The club picked up Z, Quade said.

Box Score

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for 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.”