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.

Yu Darvish still searching for results, but maintains he's on the cusp of putting it all together

Yu Darvish still searching for results, but maintains he's on the cusp of putting it all together

Yu Darvish accomplished something Saturday he has never done in a Cubs uniform — he pitched at least 5 innings in three straight starts for the first time since signing that $126 million deal more  than 14 months ago.

That's not exactly an indicator that Darvish will be contending for the National League Cy Young this season, but it's certainly a step in the right direction from his previous 10 starts in Chicago.

Darvish lasted just 5 innings in Saturday's 6-0 loss to the Diamondbacks, needing 88 pitches to get through those frames before being lifted for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the fifth inning. 

He retired 12 of the final 14 batters he faced, including a pair of strikeouts to end his last inning. 

Does he feel like he's still moving forward?

"I think so, especially that last inning," Darvish said. "The fifth inning — mentally — was very good. It's good for next start."

The end line Saturday wasn't great — 5 innings, 5 hits, 3 runs, 3 walks, 7 strikeouts, 2 homers — but he kept his team in the ballgame after giving up back-to-back homers to the second and third hitters of the afternoon.

He was still hitting 96 mph in the fifth inning and acknowledged he could've easily gone another inning if the Cubs weren't trailing 3-0 when his spot in the batting order came up.

"The fastball velocity came up as the game was going on, the breaking ball got sharper," Joe Maddon said. "...They got him quickly and then [Zack] Greinke pitched so well. I thought keeping it at 3, which Yu did do, and that's really not a bad thing after the beginning of that game. We just could not get to Greinke. 

"Had we been able to get back into the game, I think Yu's performance would've been looked on more favorably, because he actually did settle down and do a pretty good job."

Still, the Cubs need more than moral victories every time Darvish takes the ball.

Theo Epstein said earlier this month he doesn't think it's fair to issue a "start-to-start referendum" on Darvish, but this is 5 starts into the season now for the 32-year-old right-hander, who's walked 18 batters and served up 6 homers in 22.2 innings so far. 

Forget the salary or the big free agent deal. This is a four-time All-Star who has twice finished in the Top 10 in Cy Young voting, yet fell to 2-6 with a 5.31 ERA and 1.53 WHIP in 13 starts in a Cubs uniform. 

In those 13 starts, Darvish has walked multiple batters in 11 of them and allowed at least 3 earned runs in 8 outings. He's also averaged less than 5 innings a start overall, and that number is down to just 4.5 innings per outing in 2019. 

Darvish said he wants to pitch into the seventh inning (something he's never done as a Cub) and believes that would be great for his confidence that's been building — slowly but surely — since the start of the season. But he still has to get over that hump.

"His stuff's nasty — plain and simple," Jason Heyward said. "Any time I pitch with Yu in a video game, guarantee at least a 1-hitter. I feel like his confidence is just another thing he'll have to keep building on for himself. 

"Every game is different. Today was — I guess you could say — a step back or whatever. Last start was pretty good and next start, I know he's gonna come out and be hungry again. ... Today was one day. We got a long season. Hopefully next time we can scratch a few runs across."

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Cubs get more encouraging news on Jon Lester

Cubs get more encouraging news on Jon Lester

The news on Brandon Morrow might not be so positive, but the Cubs did receive very good reports on their injured ace this weekend.

Jon Lester threw a simulated game against a couple of his Cubs teammates Saturday morning at Wrigley Field, tossing 45 pitches in total. In between "innings" of the sim game, Lester was also working out on the side in an effort to ramp up the intensity and simulate more of a game feel to see how his injured left hamstring will respond.

Lester initially went on the injured list two weeks ago after he was removed in the third inning of the Cubs' home opener on April 8, when he hurt his hamstring running the bases.

"[The sim game went] really well," Joe Maddon said Saturday morning. "I thought he looked very good. Pretty amazing where he's at already. ... Did not hold back at all, so it's very encouraging."

Maddon also said he thought Lester's stuff looked good from where he was watching behind the catcher and pointed out that the Cubs ace was "hypercritical of himself," indicating that Lester's focus was on competing and making good pitches instead of worrying about his hamstring or any physical limitations.

The Cubs don't have a next step mapped out for Lester just yet, as they will see how the 35-year-old feels Sunday after the "rigorous" activity Saturday.

There is currently no timetable for his return, but Maddon didn't rule out the possibility that Lester would be able to pitch sometime in the coming week.

The Cubs rotation has looked very good since Lester went down — combining for a 0.96 ERA in the last 7 games before Yu Darvish struggled early in Saturday's tilt with the Diamondbacks.

Tyler Chatwood gets the ball for the Cubs Sunday to close out the series against Arizona and then the team has Jose Quintana and Cole Hamels lined up for the first two games of the series against the Dodgers when they come to town Tuesday night. 

The Cubs won't need a fifth starter in the rotation again until next Saturday, April 27, so that could be a date to circle for a possible Lester return if all continues to go well in the veteran's recovery.

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