Cubs

All smiles, Zambrano says he's 'cured'

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All smiles, Zambrano says he's 'cured'

Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2011
4:53 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

MESA, Ariz. Carlos Zambrano stopped attending anger-management counseling last October. He says he learned something from the experience.

Im cured, Zambrano said Tuesday. I got approval from the psychologist that I can be by myself.

Zambrano could barely get the line out before bursting into laughter along with the group of reporters surrounding his locker at Fitch Park.

They didnt get an explosive reaction the day after Cubs manager Mike Quade called Zambrano, Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza into his office to inform them that Dempster would start Opening Day.

Instead, Zambrano cracked jokes with the media and let them know that Quade handled it professionally. Zambrano loved the symbolism of being the ace, the starter on Opening Day when everyones watching. After getting the assignment for a franchise-record six straight seasons, he says he accepts the new order.

Nothing lasts forever, Zambrano said. (Dempsters) been pitching good much better than I did the last two years and he deserves it. (I) understand that. Theres nothing I can do about it (except) just keep working hard.

Zambrano will turn 30 in June and has two more years guaranteed on his 91.5 million contract. He admitted that he probably wouldnt have handled the news as well a few years ago.

The Cubs are hoping that Zambrano hit bottom last June, when a dugout dispute at U.S. Cellular Field with Derrek Lee led to his suspension and treatment for his anger issues. A player known for attacking Gatorade coolers went after hitters and ended the season by going 8-0 with a 1.41 ERA in his final 11 starts.

What makes Zambrano so interesting is that you dont know what hes going to say or do next.

Zambranos not overly concerned with his image. Clearly, he has a good sense of humor. Hes also a family man dedicated to his charities. He believes he doesnt have to change his entire personality. Its just a matter of isolating the issue.

The problem that I have to solve is when I get upset on the field, Zambrano said. My problem is after I cross those two lines. And whether somebody makes an error or whether I make an error, thats my problem. I have to focus on that this year.

But off the field I think I consider myself a nice guy. People can talk about that. I dont like to talk about myself.

Maybe Zambrano is saying all the right things and telling Cubs fans what they hope to hear. Check back April 2 to see what type of pitcher shows up at Wrigley Field. He thinks the counseling sessions had an impact.

Yes, it did work, Zambrano said. Believe me that was an experience I can talk (about) through the years. Maybe in the future I can be a pitching coach or whatever 20 years from now. I can speak to the young kids about what I went through or what happened in my career.

The follow-up question drew more laughter: Do you really see yourself coaching in the future?

I dont know, Zambrano answered with a smile. I just said that.

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

How Ian Happ got his groove back at the plate

How Ian Happ got his groove back at the plate

There's a legit case to be made that Ian Happ has been the Cubs' second-best hitter in 2018.

Yes, really.

Happ ranks second on the Cubs in OPS (.895), behind only Kris Bryant (.995) among regulars, though a recent hot streak has buoyed that overall bottom line for Happ.

Still, it's been a pretty incredible hot streak and it's propelled Happ back to where he began the season — at the top of the Cubs order. 

Happ has walked 10 times in the last 6 games and hammered out 3 homers in that span, including one on top of the Schwarboard in right field as a pinch-hitter Tuesday night.

Even more jaw-dropping: He's only struck out 5 times in the last 9 games after a dreadful start to the season in that regard.

"It was just a matter of time until things clicked a little bit," Happ said. "That's why we play 162 games and it's a game of adjustments. At the end of the day, it all evens out.

"Look at the back of Tony [Rizzo's] baseball card — it's the same thing every single year. That's how this thing goes. You're gonna have your ups and your downs and I'm just trying to be as consistent as I can. If I can level it out a little bit and be more consistent over a period of time, that'll be better for our team."

So yes, Happ is on the upswing right now and he'll inevitably have more slumps where he strikes out too much and looks lost at the plate.

Such is life for a 23-year-old who is still a week away from his 162nd career MLB game.

The league had adjusted to Happ and he had to adjust back, which he'd been working hard doing behind the scenes.

"I just try to get him to primarily slow things down," Joe Maddon said. "Try to get him back into left-center. And I did not want to heap a whole lot of at-bats on him. When you're not going good, if you heap too many at-bats on somebody, all of a sudden, that's really hard to dig out of that hole.

"So a lot of conversations — a lot of conversations — but nothing complicated. I like to go the simple side of things. I wanted him to try not to lift the ball intentionally, really organize his strike zone."

Maddon believes Happ had lost sight of his strike zone organization, chasing too many pitches out of the zone — particularly the high fastball.

Now, the Cubs manager sees Happ using his hands more and less of his arms in his swing, working a more precise, compact path to the ball.

The Happ experiment at leadoff was a disaster to begin the year — .186 AVG, .573 OPS and 22 strikeouts in 10 starts there — but all the same tools and rationale exist for why Maddon likes the switch-hitting utiliy player in that spot.

And that's why Happ was leading off Wednesday with both Ben Zobrist and Albert Almora Jr. getting the night off.

"We're gonna find out [if he can stick at leadoff]," Maddon said. "I just thought he's looked better. He's coming off a nice streak on the road trip. [Tuesday night], pinch-hitting. I know the home run's great and of course that's nice.

"But how he got to the pitch that he hit out, to me, was the important thing. Got the two strikes, took the two borderline pitches and then all of a sudden, [the pitcher] came in with a little bit more and he didn't miss it.

"That's the big thing about hitting well, too — when you see your pitch, you don't either take it or foul it off. You don't miss it. He didn't miss it."

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Who has more fun on the diamond, Javier Baez or Yolmer Sanchez?

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USA TODAY

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Who has more fun on the diamond, Javier Baez or Yolmer Sanchez?

Ozzie Guillen and David DeJesus join Leila Rahimi on Wednesday's podcast. After Tuesday's game-winning hit and second self-inflicted Gatorade bath the guys wonder if anyone has more fun on the field than Yolmer Sanchez. Jim DeShaies joins the conversation and brings Javy Baez to the table.

Plus, Manny Mania continues to swirl in Chicago. Finally, what should be the White Sox plan for calling up their top prospects?

Listen to the full Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast right here: