Cubs

Keeping score, Zambrano bursting with confidence

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Keeping score, Zambrano bursting with confidence

Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2010
1:24 AM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

SAN DIEGO This was Carlos Zambranos 294th game in a Cubs uniform, but the first time his mother, who traveled from Venezuela, could actually sit in the stands and watch him pitch.

Zambrano called it a special night after Mondays 1-0 victory over the San Diego Padres, and his mind wandered to several different places. He thanked God for the way his season is ending, quoted the pitching philosophy of Greg Maddux and mentioned how a newspaper reporter had recently described him as a former ace.

You can count and see if Im the former ace or if Im still the ace of this team, Zambrano said. I still have confidence in myself and all my pitches are working right now.

Chicago has understandably shifted its attention to the Bears and locked in on Monday Night Football. During the seasons final week, the real interest in the Cubs (71-85) will come from out-of-town markets.

But Zambrano is still a reason to tune in and not just to see if he does anything crazy in the dugout. With seven more scoreless innings against the Padres (87-69), he is now 7-0 with a 1.27 ERA in 10 starts since rejoining the rotation.

Hes just attacking the zone with confidence right now and he should be successful when hes doing that, manager Mike Quade said. The results speak for themselves. One more good start in Houston and that would be some kind of finish, but hes been fantastic.

Atlanta, San Francisco and Colorado will all be watching the scoreboard these four nights to see what the Cubs do in San Diego. The Padres woke up Monday morning leading the Braves in the wild-card race by a half-game, and trailing the Giants by a half-game in the National League West.

The Padres are a great story, contending with a payroll around 38 million. They have a marketable Mexican-American star in Adrian Gonzalez, who was born in San Diego and moved to Tijuana before emerging as the No. 1 overall pick of the 2000 draft at Eastlake High School in nearby Chula Vista, Calif.

Yet by Monday night, the atmosphere felt like Pittsburgh in May. This is a beautiful downtown stadium by the water with a clear view of the citys skyline and entire sections of empty seats.

Only 22,739 fans showed up to PETCO Park and it finally became somewhat loud in the seventh, when Zambrano walked two batters and ran the count to 3-1.

There he got Tony Gwynn to fly out to center with an 88 mph sinker. He forced pinch-hitter Oscar Salazar to pop out into foul territory to end the inning and held his fist in the air for several seconds.

You could almost hear Zambranos scream several levels up in the stadium. When he returned to the dugout, he was greeted with wave after wave of high fives from his teammates.

By the ninth inning, there was again energy in the stadium. Carlos Marmol needed only 10 pitches to strike out the first two batters before Yorvit Torrealba slid headfirst for an infield single.

Marmol then hit Chase Headley with a slider that appeared to only brush the dirt, and walked Gwynn to load the bases before Nick Hundley flew out to left to end the game. That quieted the crowd and dropped the Padres a game behind the Giants in the division and a half-game back of the Braves in the wild-card chase.

The Cubs will need Zambrano to resemble an ace or at least get significant returns on their 91.5 million investment if they are to get back into that conversation.

Ted Lilly reportedly placed his Chicago house on the market, another sign that hes not likely to return as a free agent. That will only increase the demands on Zambrano near the front of the 2011 rotation.

Late Monday night, Zambrano was feeling good, but wouldnt share how he envisioned this season ending while he waited on the restricted list.

It doesnt matter if its San Diego or St. Louis or Pittsburgh, Zambrano said. I thought about coming back and helping this team and doing my job and forgetting about everything else. Plus, I dont want to talk about when I was suspended or whatever. I want to talk about what I did today and what I want to do (with) my next start.

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

Remember that guy? Former Cubs shortstop Ricky Gutiérrez

Remember that guy? Former Cubs shortstop Ricky Gutiérrez

Ricky Gutiérrez played in the Majors from 1993-2004. He played shortstop for the Cubs from 2000-01 and later signed with them again in June 2004. 

However, Gutiérrez never got back to the Majors with the Cubs, who sent him to the Red Sox the following month. His final Major League game was with the Red Sox on Oct. 3, 2004, the final game of the 2004 regular season; he didn’t play in the 2004 postseason. Gutiérrez was subsequently signed and released by a few other teams, including the White Sox in 2005.

Gutiérrez holds the distinction of being the first Cubs player to hit a regular season grand slam against the White Sox (July 12, 2001). In his two seasons with the Cubs, he tied for the Major League lead in sacrifice bunts both years (16 in 2000, 17 in 2001) which was odd since he had a grand total of 18 sacrifice bunts in his 847 career games NOT in a Cubs uniform. He also had uncharacteristic power with the Cubs:  21 home runs for Chicago in 272 games, 17 home runs with everyone else (847 games).

What Cubs fans probably remember most is what Gutiérrez did against them. On May 6, 1998 he had the lone hit (many dispute it should have been ruled an error) for the Astros off Kerry Wood in Wood’s 20-strikeout masterpiece at Wrigley Field (Gutiérrez was responsible for two of the strikeouts). 

Later that season, on June 26, the number 20 and Gutiérrez were again connected when he had a 20-pitch battle against Bartolo Colón, which ended in a strikeout. It remained the last plate appearance in the Majors of at least 20 pitches until Brandon Belt flew out on the 21st pitch of an at-bat against the Angels' Jaime Barria on April 22, 2018.

Gutiérrez’s nephew, James Jones, played 14 seasons in the NBA for the Pacers, Suns, Trail Blazers, Heat and Cavaliers.

2019 encore for Jesse Chavez?

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USA TODAY

2019 encore for Jesse Chavez?

On July 15, Brandon Morrow recorded his 22nd save of the season with a scoreless inning in San Diego. It wound up being the last time he pitched in a game for the Cubs in 2018. 

Four days later, during the All-Star break, the Cubs made a move to bolster their bullpen, acquiring Jesse Chavez from the Rangers in exchange for minor league hurler Tyler Thomas. It wasn’t even the biggest trade they’d make with the Rangers that month – a little over a week later they dealt for Cole Hamels. 

Despite pitching nearly half the innings, Chavez was almost as valuable as Hamels.

2018 with Cubs IP fWAR
Jesse Chavez 39.0 1.1
Cole Hamels 76.1 1.5

Chavez made his Cubs debut on July 21; from July 21 through the end of the season, 187 pitchers tossed at least 30 innings. 185 of them had a higher ERA than Chavez, while 184 of them allowed more baserunners per 9 innings.

Best ERA, July 21-end of season

(minimum 30 innings) IP ERA
Blake Treinen 32.1 0.56
Jesse Chavez 39.0 1.15
Blake Snell 61.2 1.17
Trevor Bauer 35.0 1.29
Trevor Williams 71.2 1.38
Robert Stock 36.0 1.50

Fewest baserunners per 9 innings, July 32-end of season

(minimum 30 innings) IP BR/9 IP
Blake Treinen 32.1 5.85
Blake Snell 61.2 7.15
Jesse Chavez 39.0 7.15
Jacob deGrom 93.2 7.49
Scott Oberg 30.2 7.63
Josh Hader 33.1 7.83

But how did Chavez transform into one of Joe Maddon’s best bullpen arms down the stretch?  According to Chavez, his own transformation started on Mother’s Day.

Chavez entered a game in Houston with a 5.48 ERA in a dozen appearances, but pitched three innings with no hits, no walks and four strikeouts. From that point through the end of the season, he posted a 1.70 ERA and 0.892 WHIP. 

Chavez points to a change in arm slot which resulted in better consistency and a slight jump in velocity. A glance at his release point charts show that consistency, and he added roughly one mile an hour to his fastball.

"It's kept me more consistent in the zone," Chavez said. "Things have been sharper, velocity has been a lot sharper. I was huffing and puffing trying to get a 92 (mph fastball) out there and it wasn't coming.

"Next thing you know, I dropped it and it's right there, and I'm like, 'something's wrong here.' But I just took it and ran with it."

Jesse Chavez 2018 four-seam fastball velocity

  Average Max
Prior to May 13 92.6 mph 94.6 mph
May 13 on 93.6 mph 95.7 mph

Can Chavez be valuable in 2019?  The 35-year old reliever posted the best ERA (2.55), WHIP (1.059) and walk rate (4.5% - nearly two percent better than his previous best) in 2018, and he continued to get better as the season went on. 

He’s a former starter who can pitch multiple innings if needed, and that’s a valuable thing - especially for a manager like Joe Maddon, who uses his pitchers in a variety of ways. It’s unlikely he’ll have a second consecutive career year.

But he’ll likely be well worth the price tag; he only made $1 million in 2018, and even with a slight raise he should be very affordable. There’s definitely room in Maddon’s bullpen for a pitcher like Chavez.