Cubs

Your 2011 Cubs begin with Ramirez, Zambrano

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Your 2011 Cubs begin with Ramirez, Zambrano

Monday, Oct. 4, 2010
4:39 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

Aramis Ramirez stood in front of his locker and sort of laughed and shook his head late Sunday afternoon when a reporter mentioned Carlos Zambranos latest comments.

The night before, on the other side of the visiting clubhouse at Minute Maid Park, Zambrano responded to a question about offseason needs by saying he wants the Cubs to sign 6-foot-6-inch, 285-pound slugger Adam Dunn as a way to protect Ramirez and Marlon Byrd in the lineup.

After being Zambranos teammate for parts of eight seasons, Ramirez is almost numb to all this. Ramirez can be a bit of a loner, but hes honest, and even at the end still realized the implication was calling out someone else in the room.

When you add a guy like that he hits 40 homers every year it wont hurt, Ramirez said. But like I say, thats not my job and we got a guy right now playing first that I dont want to disrespect. Zambrano can say whatever he wants, but (Xavier) Nadys (been) playing there every day now and hes a free agent and I dont know what theyre going to do.

Ramirez is certain what hes going to do with his 14.6 million player option for next season, and that might be the easiest decision surrounding the Cubs the next four months.

Ill be here next year, he said Sunday after Game 162 in Houston.

And that is as good a place as any to start looking ahead to Opening Day 2011, the Cubs subject to Zambranos whims, needing Ramirez to again play like an All-Star and not knowing what they can and cannot afford.

The team charter flying back to Chicago wasnt crowded Sunday night, with most of the players already moved out and scattering across the country from Houston. By Monday afternoon, the Wrigley Field clubhouse was almost entirely empty, and Zambrano was said to be involved in a minor car accident leaving the parking lot.

Fair or not, whatever Zambrano says or does will make news. No one can match what he did in his final 11 starts 8-0 with a 1.41 ERA for an entire season. Everyone will be curious to see how he responds after a few bad games, and if those anger-management sessions will have a lasting impact.

Id like to think hell never have any adversity again, but we know thats not true, Mike Quade said. This has been a really, really nice couple months for him and I think hell take it into this winter and Im confident that hell come back next spring not forgetting whats happened.

If Quade returns as manager and he likes the odds of that happening then he will likely see many of the same faces in Mesa, Ariz.

In the final weeks of the season, Nady was the only player getting questions about his upcoming free agency. He will turn 32 next month and the Cubs have liked him as a prospect since he was in high school.

All of Nadys numbers this season .256 average, six homers, 33 RBI come with an asterisk because of the elbow-reconstruction surgery he underwent in July 2009. He enjoys playing in Chicago and expects to be at full health in 2011.

But realistically first base might be the one position where the Cubs can upgrade. The outfield is still crowded and the middle infield will be young and cheap.

The Cubs are already committed to around 102 million next season for Zambrano, Ramirez, Alfonso Soriano, Kosuke Fukudome, Ryan Dempster, Carlos Silva, Byrd, Jeff Samardzija and John Grabow.

The Seattle Mariners will continue to pay for part of Silvas salary, and maybe general manager Jim Hendry can get creative again with Fukudome, who has no-trade protection and is entering the final year of his 48 million deal.

Carlos Marmol, Sean Marshall and Geovany Soto all enjoyed outstanding seasons and will be eligible for arbitration and nice raises. Each was signed and developed by the organization, which is supposed to be the model going forward.

The only indication chairman Tom Ricketts has given is that payroll will probably be lowered from its 2010 level (approximately 145 million). That will again place the burden on the players you already know, guys like Zambrano and Ramirez.

If youre going to start with a club thats going to contend, or youre putting something together, its wonderful to have a bunch of young guys, Quade said. But nine times out of 10 you better have some stalwarts. (You) start with guys who have a history and you say, Look, here are our guys that we can quote-unquote count on. All those veterans will be a huge part of (this).

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

Brandon Morrow lands on DL after hurting back while taking his pants off

Brandon Morrow lands on DL after hurting back while taking his pants off

Remember that one time Sammy Sosa threw out his back while sneezing? Well, Brandon Morrow may have topped that on the Cubs all-time list of wacky injuries.

The 33-year-old closer was placed on the 10-day disabled list prior to Wednesday's game after hurting his back while taking his pants off upon returning from the team's road trip to St. Louis. It's being labeled as "lower back tightness."

"It's frustrating any time you can't get out there, and especially when you can't go because of something stupid like taking your pants off," Morrow told reporters on Tuesday.

And that's put the Cubs pitching staff in a tough spot for the rest of the week, given Wednesday's series finale against the Dodgers is the third game in a little more than 24 hours for the Cubs.

"I don't want to downplay anything," Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said. "Obviously he had back spams, he had the same thing in spring training. We'll start treating it the same way we did in spring training; I think he was out about a week to 10 days. If things go as we hope, I think it'd be the kind of thing where he'd probably be able to be throwing before the 10 days is up.

"But we felt like it wasn't going to be something where he was ready this weekend and if he's not going to be ready all weekend, we can already backdate it three days so it made sense to put him on the DL."

Morrow is tied for fifth in the National League with 16 saves and owns a 1.59 ERA is 26 relief appearances this season. Justin Hancock, who served as the 26th man during Tuesday's doubleheader, stayed with the team as a result.

Pants, seat of the pants and sim games: The current state of Cubs pitching

Pants, seat of the pants and sim games: The current state of Cubs pitching

Dominating.

That's how a smiling Theo Epstein described Yu Darvish's simulated game at Wrigley Field Wednesday morning.

Meanwhile, in the bowels of the "Friendly Confines," the Cubs' clubhouse was getting used to the idea of closer Brandon Morrow on the disabled list.

Such is life for the current state of affairs for the Cubs pitching staff with their two biggest additions from the winter now on the shelf at the same time.

Darvish threw roughly 50 pitches in his sim game against hitters Ian Happ and Tommy La Stella. He worked in all his pitches and liked the way his fastball and slider felt, but needs to refine his curveball and splitter with more work.

"I feel good," Darvish said through a translator. "There was some anxiety beforehand, but I think it turned out to be better than I expected."

Darvish said the anxiety stemmed mostly from his past elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery in 2014.

"Definitly the elbow aspect," Darvish said. "The anxiety came from whether I could throw at 100 percent condition."

This is the second time Darvish has mentioned his past elbow injury is in the back of his mind as he's worked through the current triceps issue. He said the same thing last week in Milwaukee after his first bullpen session.

Remember, too, Darvish was concerned about the possibility of cramps in his arm in his Cubs debut in Miami in late March.

It appears as if he has some mental hurdles to work through with his history of elbow problems, but he hasn't reported pain in weeks now and the MRI showed no structural damage in late May.

The Cubs do not yet have a set plan for Darvish after this sim game and will evaluate how he feels Thursday. If the reports are all good, he could head out on a rehab assignment shortly.

Darvish said he would only need one rehab start before he'd be ready to rejoin the Cubs rotation.

Meanwhile, Morrow's back tightened up on him in the wee hours of Monday morning after the Cubs made the trip back from the night game in St. Louis. He hurt his back taking off his pants, he said, and was unavailable Monday and Tuesday before the Cubs put him on the disabled list Wednesday morning.

"It's just one of those freakish things," Maddon said. "People bend over and hurt their backs all the time."

The Cubs have been uber cautious with Morrow all year with his injury history and now that they're in the midst of a stretch of 14 games in 13 days thanks to Tuesday's doubleheader, can't afford to not have a fresh arm in the bullpen.

"We thought it would be wise to give him a couple days," Joe Maddon said. "It's like a back spasm, back tightness. We just can't go with one less pitcher right now coming off the doubleheader. 

"...It's for him, too. I don't want him to go out there and pitch coming off that right now. There's really no reason to rush it back. Prefer him getting 100 percent well, getting him back out there when it's right and then moving on from there."

In Morrow's absence, Maddon will play matchups with the closing options as he did in Game 1 Tuesday. Steve Cishek, Justin Wilson and Pedro Strop all have experience closing.

The Cubs also don't have an update yet on Carl Edwards Jr. as he works his way back from a shoulder injury. He's been throwing from flat ground and looking "outstanding," Maddon said, but the team doesn't have a finish line yet. Edwards would probably need a short rehab stint before returning, too.

Then there's Brian Duensing, who is currently on the bereavement list due to the passing of his grandfather. The Cubs expect to have their left-handed veteran back by Friday.

All told, the Cubs are without Morrow, Edwards, Duensing, Mike Montgomery (rotation) and Eddie Butler (DL - groin) from their Opening Day bullpen. Only Cishek, Strop and Wilson remain from the group.

In their stead are Luke Farrell, Justin Hancock, Randy Rosario, Rob Zastryzny and Anthony Bass — all 5 of which have been pretty successful during their time in Chicago.

As if there wasn't already enough complications with the Cubs pitching staff, here are three more:

—The weather in Cincinnati this weekend
—Tyler Chatwood's wife is about to have the couple's first child
—Monday's rain/light-out at Wrigley Field pushed Chatwood back a day, so he cannot start Saturday's game

Let's start with the weather. As of Wednesday afternoon, there was a 100 percent chance of rain all day in Cincinnati on Thursday, where the Cubs begin a four-game series. The forecast doesn't look much better for Friday, either.

Even if the Cubs are able to play every game as scheduled, who will start Saturday? It can't be any of the current rotation members given none would be on regular rest. 

Chatwood would be in line to start Sunday's series finale in Cincinnati, but that's only if his wife isn't given birth at the time.

So right now, the Cubs don't know who's going to start either game this weekend. They could call somebody up from the minor leagues or give the ball to Farrell, who is still stretched out enough to give them 4-5 innings or so.

"It's totally by ear," Maddon said. "This is absolutely seat of the pants. We have Farrell, of course. By not using Farrell [Thursday or Friday], he would be a consideration, no question. 

"But other than that, we got a baby on the way, we got all kinds of stuff going on, so we're just gonna have to play that by ear."

With the pitching shortage, it makes what Jon Lester (7 shutout innings Wednesday) and Mike Montgomery (6 innings in Game 2 Tuesday) even more important to the overall health of the unit, eating up innings at a desperate time.

The Cubs' next off-day won't come until July 2, barring any weather delays. So this stretch will be huge for how Maddon and the Cubs coaching staff/front office handles the pitching staff.

But hey, at least it's only June and not October.