Cubs

Zambrano stays in the picture, Cubs crush Pirates

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Zambrano stays in the picture, Cubs crush Pirates

Monday, Aug. 30, 2010
11:55 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

The Cubs gathered in the outfield on Monday afternoon at Wrigley Field to take a team photo that will ultimately be remembered for who is missing. But there was Carlos Zambrano standing in the top row, fourth in from the left.

Mike Quade sat front and center, where Lou Piniella would have been if his mother hadnt developed health problems, and if the Cubs had performed more like a team with a payroll around 145 million.

In a summer shaped by dramatic and sudden changes, Zambrano enjoys the leverage of the no-trade clause contained in his 91.5 million contract. Even without that provision, he is still owed almost 36 million across the next two seasons in a soft economy.

Zambrano has spent time on the restricted list and in the bullpen, but he is beginning to pitch like the front-line starter hes supposed to be. The trend line continued with Monday nights 14-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates in front of 29,538 fans at Wrigley Field.

Zambrano left the team for three days last week to visit his ailing nephew in Venezuela. The 11-year-old is still in a coma, but the expectation is that within the next few days he will no longer need a machine to breathe.

Its a miracle in our family, Zambrano said. Hes not out of intensive care yet. But hes still much better compared to four or five days ago, when he was diagnosed with a high-percentage chance of (not) getting out of (it) alive.

Zambrano tried to push those thoughts out of his mind, and he allowed only one unearned run on four hits in 5 13 innings. He struck out seven, walked four and hit the 21st home run of his career, a two-run shot that landed in the left-field bleachers.

He looked really good tonight, outfielder Marlon Byrd said, four-seamers, two-seamers, his slider was breaking late. (He) had it all.

Since returning to the rotation, Zambrano is 3-0 with a 1.84 ERA in five starts, and he has given up just two earned runs in his last three, a stretch of 18 23 innings. Hes raised his arm slot, which gives his sinker more movement, and disguises the ball from hitters.

Quade hasnt gone out of his way to connect with Zambrano. The manager thinks Zambranos most important relationship is with pitching coach Larry Rothschild. Everyones job is easier when the emotional pitcher is focused.

The Cubs (56-76) are now 5-2 under Quade, who chatted briefly with chairman Tom Ricketts on Monday after the organizational picture was taken in the seats behind the dugout. Yes, this is only the Pirates (43-88) when youre evaluating Zambrano and Quade. But the Cubs are just 4-9 against them this season.

Everything right now is heading in the right direction, Quade said. It is a process and it doesnt happen overnight and we got plenty of stuff to iron out. Satisfaction is not something Im really big on.

Before his first game managing at Wrigley Field, Quade did take a moment to soak it all in during the national anthem. He had waited 17 years and 2,378 games for this while managing in the minors, plus seven more years as a major-league coach.

Its not just about being here, Quade said. Its about where Ive been. And Ive been damn near everywhere, so this is a pretty good place to end up right now.

After the blowout win, Quade walked into the interview room down the hall from the Cubs clubhouse and said how it looks so much bigger on TV. When he stepped down from the podium, a media relations staffer reached out to make sure he didnt bump his head on a pipe running at an angle from the wall to the ceiling.

Zambrano doesnt like to talk between starts, but he can be quite candid when he sits down behind that microphone. He could be here to stay.

Its a long season, Zambrano said. Its not how you start. Its how you finish.

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