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After sweep, Zambrano's talking retirement again

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After sweep, Zambrano's talking retirement again

Thursday, Sept. 16, 2010
Updated 12:34 AM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

ST. LOUIS There was Carlos Zambrano sitting with his teammates, laughing at the Ace Ventura movie playing in the clubhouse. And there was Zambrano dancing by his locker, singing a Bob Marley song.

No one knows for certain if this peace will last, or if the suspension and anger-management counseling he received will become a turning point in his career. But hes already thinking about the end.

Just as Zambranos again performing like the elite pitcher the Cubs thought he would be, he again talked about retirement after Wednesdays 7-3 victory over the Cardinals, which capped their first three-game sweep in St. Louis in more than 22 years.

This will be my last contract. I dont think I will be playing anymore (after that), Zambrano said. Life is short, believe me, and sometimes you miss very important people, like my daughter.

Sometimes you miss things in life because of baseball you shouldnt miss. I want to be there for my daughter. I dont want anything to happen, especially in my family. Baseball, believe me, takes a lot of time from us.

Zambrano made similar noise about walking away from the game after earning his 100th win last year in Cincinnati. The 29-year-old has two more seasons guaranteed on his 91.5 million deal, plus a vesting player option for 2013 that is dependent upon where he finishes in the Cy Young voting the next two seasons.

It appeared completely out of reach when Zambrano was sent to the bullpen early in the season, and after he got in Derrek Lees face on June 25 and alienated himself from his teammates.

But Zambrano is 6-0 with a 1.59 ERA in his seven starts since rejoining the rotation, which is what the Cubs thought they were paying for when he signed that big contract in August 2007.

Theres a calmness right now, manager Mike Quade said. He seems in charge both on the mound and off the mound. He pitches with emotion you know that. But hes just handling things as well as Ive seen. Instead of trying to figure out why, I just tip my hat and say, Good for you.

Three nights at Busch Stadium and the Cubs (65-81) beat a legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate (Jamie Garcia), a 2010 All-Star (Adam Wainwright) and a Cy Young Award winner (Chris Carpenter).

Zambrano pitched better than them all in front of the 41,145 fans who watched playoff hopes vanish for the Cardinals (74-70).

Zambrano went six innings and allowed two runs one earned on a night where he saw his velocity at 88, 89 mph on the radar gun. He was mixing his slider and curveball, showing he can get outs without blowing the ball by hitters.

You roll along with a career for five, six, seven years, Quade said, and all of a sudden things get a little tough. You got adjustments to make if you want to keep playing.

Zambrano said he was serious about the retirement promise. He was philosophical about how different his season might have been if the Cubs didnt try to convert him into an eighth-inning reliever, saying things happen for a reason.

And he seemed reflective when he had to leave the team last month to visit his nephew in intensive care at a hospital back home in Venezuela.

Zambrano took his time before meeting with the media late Wednesday night, but every five days he always seems to have something interesting to say. "My agent always tells me Im unique," he said as postgame interview ended, and theres no arguing that point.

I want to enjoy the game as much as I can the next two, three years on my contract, Zambrano said. A friend of mine one time told me that any time Im batting, I look excited, I look happier than when Im pitching. I want to mix it up. (I) want to have the same joy, the same motivation I have when Im hitting.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

David Bote remains in lineup after Kris Bryant's return, headlines Cubs defense

David Bote remains in lineup after Kris Bryant's return, headlines Cubs defense

Cubs third baseman David Bote charged down the line and called off pitcher Alec Mills.

Bote snagged the bunt with his bare right hand and slung it across is body. Bote’s throw to first beat the Royals’ Adalberto Mondesi by half a step.

“It does nothing but fire you up,” Mills said after the Cubs’ 2-0 win over the Royals on Monday.

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Bote had been filling in for Kris Bryant at third for the previous two games, but when Bryant returned on Monday, Bote remained in the lineup. Even as a role player, Bote entered Monday's series opener with a top-5 batting average (.278) on the team and  tied for second in RBIs (5). But Cubs manager David Ross also trusted him in the infield with a groundball pitcher on the mound. Bote’s defense shone.

It stood out even in a game that included an outstanding tag by shortstop Javier Báez to catch a runner stealing and Jason Heyward covering a ton of ground in right field.

“I’m proud of our defense,” Ross said. “That’s something that we’ve emphasized that could be better, and it’s been so great. These guys are getting a lot of work in.”

This time, Bote knew long before the game that he was playing. On Saturday, when Bryant was a late scratch due to an upset stomach, Bote found out five minutes before first pitch that he was starting at third base.

On Monday, Bote remained at third, and Bryant started in left field. That setup put extra speed in left on a windy day and allowed Kyle Schwarber, who had played in left for the past three games, to be the designated hitter.

Bote worked with bench coach Andy Green on slow-rolling ground balls before the game, according to Ross.

 “This is one of the teams that bunt a lot in this league,” Báez said, “and we were ready for it.”

Bote proved that with a bare-handed grab seventh inning, when the Cubs were protecting a one-run lead. He threw out Mondesi for the final out of the inning.  But then, he made another bare-handed play the next inning.

Bare-handing a bunt and throwing across the body on the run is a play exclusive to third basemen. The downside of playing multiple positions is a utility man like Bote has to spread his receptions out among those positions.

Bote had attempted a bare-handed play once before in the season, but he didn’t field it cleanly – there’s a reason infielders use their gloves whenever possible. The margin for error is so much smaller without them.

In the eighth inning, Whit Merrifield hit a weak ground ball to Bote. The third baseman charged, fielded the ball with his right hand, and again threw across the diamond on the run. That was the second out of the inning.

“Both of those plays could have gone either way,” Bryant said of Bote’s bare-handed grabs, “and then there’s runners on base there. You don’t know how the game’s going to turn out.”

Case in point: Jorge Soler hit a single right after Bote’s eight-inning play. If Bote hadn’t thrown Merrifield out, he would be in scoring position with one out.

Instead, Rowan Wick took over for Casey Sadler on the mound and struck out the next batter to end the inning.

“It’s those little things in the games that don’t get too much attention,” Bryant continued, “but they definitely do change the momentum of everything out there.”

 

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How David Ross plans to fix Cubs closer problem with Craig Kimbrel in the shop

How David Ross plans to fix Cubs closer problem with Craig Kimbrel in the shop

One of the unnoticed benefits of Javy Báez’s game-ending single in the 11th inning Sunday against the Pirates was that it eliminated a 12th inning that would have belonged to the struggling Craig Kimbrel.

That was David Ross’ next man out of the bullpen, the Cubs manager said Monday.

Instead, we watched the man who would be — and should be — the closer pitch out of the contrived jam (man on second) that is the start of each extra inning this year, and earn the win.

Or did we?

One day after veteran Jeremy Jeffress needed just nine pitches to beat the Pirates in the best of four impressive bullpen appearances, Rowan Wick earned a four-out save in a 2-0 victory over the Royals on Monday night.

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And just like that, the Cubs unveiled a closer-by-committee scheme, if not a closer controversy.

The way the first eight games looked, it's hard to imagine having enough reliable pitchers for a quorum. much less a bona fide committee, among the 14 pitchers who have occupied roster spots in the Cubs’ pen so far.

But until or unless Kimbrel (four walks, two homers, one wild pitch and four outs so far) gets right again, that’s the plan for closing out close games, Ross said after Monday’s game.

“I think every night will be different,” he said. “Every night we’re trying to find the best matchups and who’s throwing well.”

Jeffress is the one guy in the group who has the track record, the unflappable veteran presence and the cold-blooded performance so far this year that included escaping a pair of bases-loaded jams in addition to Sunday’s 11th-inning work.

Whether Jeffress was considered unavailable Monday because of high-leverage innings both Saturday and Sunday or Ross liked Wick’s 95-mph fastball/curveball mix against the middle of the Royals order, it was last year’s rookie success story on this night.

“It’s going to be a full team effort down there,” Ross said. “I’m not scared to pull the trigger in a lot of areas with a lot of those guys. They’ve done a really good job of answering the bell here lately and we’ll continue to assess on a daily basis.”

For now it has meant eight consecutive scoreless innings the last two nights against two of the worst teams in baseball for a Cubs bullpen that ranked last in the majors in ERA and several other categories.

That’s not what Ross means when he talks about looking for matchups.

But 10 games into 60-game season, that bullpen almost certainly will continue to be assessed on a daily basis top to bottom.

And with its $43 million closer looking like the weakest link since September, the end of any game with a close lead might be the most intriguing thing to watch with this team for as long as this pandemic season might last.

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