Cubs

No disrespect? Cubs pick up Zambrano

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No disrespect? Cubs pick up Zambrano

Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Posted: 10:24 p.m. Updated: 11:48 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

HOUSTON Carlos Zambrano already started walking several steps off the mound before Mike Quade could get there. It looked like a power play, the pitcher handing his manager the ball on the infield grass on the way to the dugout.

This is what makes Zambrano so unpredictable. This is what tests the organizations patience. It was all there for everyone to see on Wednesday night at Minute Maid Park. Except Zambrano, who didnt even realize what he just did.

Zambrano was so caught up in an inning spinning out of control that Kerry Wood had to point it out to him. Zambrano watched the replay and felt compelled to go over to the Cubs managers office and apologize to Quade after a 9-5 win over the Houston Astros.

I didnt mean that, Zambrano said. Believe me, the last thing that I want to do this year is disrespect the manager.

Zambrano showed his entire range in the sixth inning. It started with the home run he crushed off the faade in left-center field, some 412 feet away. He pointed up at the black sky as he crossed home plate.

To that point, Zambrano had thrown five scoreless innings. His teammates had given him a 5-0 lead before he threw a single pitch.

Yet when Brett Wallace singled a 3-2 pitch into left field to make it a 6-2 game, Zambrano immediately gestured toward home plate, kicked at the rubber and snapped the ball when it was flipped back to him.

Once Matt Downs hammered another 3-2 pitch beyond the high wall in left-center field for a two-run homer, the Astros had sliced the deficit to one. Zambrano walked one more batter and that was it.

During Game 161 last season in Houston, Zambrano turned away from Quade when he handed the ball to his manager and sulked off the mound. Quade defused that situation and did the same late Wednesday night.

I didnt get there quick enough, Quade said. He was ready to go and I should have been sprinting there. Just hand me the ball. Just dont drop the ball. (I) dont really care. I was hoping he wouldnt run me over.

Look, he was upset. I was upset. Everybodys upset. Lets just have a nice exchange. Lets not fumble the handoff and itll be ok. Lets hope were better next time.

Within the past week, Zambrano suddenly looked more reliable with the Cubs rotation down two pitchers. The Cubs dont yet know what theyre going to do with the fifth starters slot next week.

Jeff Samardzija, who threw three innings out of the bullpen on Tuesday night, became an option for a spot start, and so is James Russell or someone outside the 25-man roster. But long-term the Cubs see Samardzija as a reliever and dont want to mess too much with his role yet again.

Given all that uncertainty, the Cubs will need Zambrano (2-0, 6.11 ERA) to keep everything in check.

Zambrano was gracious when Quade named Ryan Dempster the Opening Day starter and didnt take it as a snub.

The past few days you could see Zambrano salsa dancing in the clubhouse or cracking up on the couch watching Eastbound & Down with his teammates.

Zambrano was almost becoming boring in his postgame news conferences. Whether or not you believe in a new Zambrano, he quickly took responsibility for his actions.

Q is a great guy, Zambrano said. It was my mistake. I think next time I will wait (longer). In fact, next time I will wait for the reliever, too. Theres no problem.

The Cubs (6-6) have a strong sense of team and would probably want you to focus elsewhere. The top of the lineup looks like it could be here to stay. Starlin Castro (.389) and Darwin Barney (.345) combined for eight hits and seven runs this series.

Alfonso Soriano hit his fourth home run of the season. Jeff Baker continues to mash left-handed pitching. The bullpen Marcos Mateo, Sean Marshall, Wood and Carlos Marmol did not allow a run or a hit in 3 13 innings.

The club picked up Z, Quade said.

Box Score

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

Kyle Ryan's emergence is coming at exactly the right time for Cubs

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AP

Kyle Ryan's emergence is coming at exactly the right time for Cubs

With the MLB trade deadline two weeks away, bullpen help figures to be on the Cubs' wish list.

But thanks in part to Kyle Ryan's emergence, the Cubs don't absolutely need that reliever to be left-handed (though it would probably be ideal).

The Cubs began the week with three southpaws in their bullpen, but at some point this weekend, Ryan may be the lone lefty remaining. Mike Montgomery was traded to the Royals late Monday night and with Carl Edwards Jr. progressing in his rehab (he threw again Tuesday), he might take Randy Rosario's spot in a couple days. 

The Cubs like Edwards against lefties and they also feel confident in Pedro Strop against either handed hitter when he's on. But Ryan has worked his way into Joe Maddon's Circle of Trust and is currently the only lefty residing there.

That's not to say the Cubs don't need another reliable southpaw in the 'pen, but Ryan looks like he's going to get some big outs for this team down the stretch.

"He's done a great job for us since he's been here," Jon Lester said of Ryan last month. "I don't think he gets enough credit for what he's been able to do."

Ryan impressed the Cubs with his work as a multi-inning reliever in Triple-A last season and turned heads again in camp this spring. Still, Rosario made the Opening Day roster over him, though Ryan got called up on the team's season-opening road trip and made his first appearance on April 6.

Since then, he's been a mainstay while Montgomery battled injury and ineffectiveness, Rosario and Tim Collins have bounced between Triple-A Iowa and Chicago and veteran Xavier Cedeno's time off the injured list was short-lived.

Ryan looked to be finding his way throughout his first month in the bullpen, but after his infamous "freeze" moment against the Marlins, he endured some struggles (7 runs allowed on 12 hits in 7 innings from May 8 through June 1).

He's righted the ship since then, permitting only 1 run over his last 17 appearances (14 innings) and lowering his season ERA to 3.21 to go along with a 1.31 WHIP and 33 strikeouts in 33.2 innings.

A big part of that recent success can be tied to Ryan's increased improvement against left-handed hitters. 

Lefties hit .344 with a .405 on-base percentage off Ryan through June 5. But since then, Ryan has surrendered only 3 hits — all singles — and zero walks to the 19 left-handed hitters he's faced (.158 AVG).

He credits part of that turnaround to working on a changeup, which he thinks has helped lock in the "feel" of all his other pitches as well as his mechanics. 

As he works to add a new pitch to his repertoire, Ryan has leaned on Cubs bullpen coach Lester Strode and pitching coach Tommy Hottovy for assistance, while also picking the brains of veterans like Cole Hamels, Kyle Hendricks and Brad Brach who have all thrown changeups for quite a while.

But even with all that work, he still hasn't resorted to using the changeup much in games. The pitch is so foreign that it's still being picked up as a sinker, including on the Wrigley Field video board Sunday when he threw one in his inning of work.

"Eventually, I'm gonna find the changeup and it's gonna be a comfortable, confident pitch," Ryan said. "But I do think it's gotten me behind all the rest of my pitches and it's maybe a little bit better feel for everything. It's gonna stay where it is for a while. I'm gonna keep trying."

Ryan said one of the things he likes about the changeup is that it can eventually be a nice weapon because it "goes in the opposite direction" of all his other pitches.

We'll see if the new pitch can ever become a factor for the 27-year-old. But if it's helped lock in his other pitches, that's great news for the Cubs, especially as they look to fortify their bullpen this month.

Cubs Talk Podcast: The Yu Darvish 1st Wrigley win and post-ASG hot start podcast

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: The Yu Darvish 1st Wrigley win and post-ASG hot start podcast

On the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, Kelly Crull and Tony Andracki discuss Yu Darvish's 1st win at Wrigley, Cole Hamel's status, and Kris Bryant playing better than he did in his MVP season.

01:00     Darvish picking up 1st win at Wrigley

03:30     Cole Hamels injury update

05:00     Starting rotation after the All-Star break

06:00     Cubs defense looking sharp

07:30     How the Cubs will approach the weekend and the expected heat

09:30     Kris Bryant playing above his MVP level

12:00     How the NL Central stacks up

14:00     Upcoming road trip to San Francisco, Milwaukee and Saint Louis

16:00     Addition to Martin Maldonado

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Cubs Talk Podcast

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