Cubs

Zambrano's trying to reinvent himself

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Zambrano's trying to reinvent himself

Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2010
12:49 AM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

The Cubs cant seem to pinpoint exactly what has transformed Carlos Zambrano and they cant know for certain it will last.

There are theories about his mechanics and finding the proper arm slot. Zambrano talks about faith in his secondary pitches and being able to throw them in any count. The media wonders about the impact of those anger-management sessions.

We are left with Zambranos numbers 6-0 with a 1.42 ERA in nine starts since returning to the rotation and even those are skewed by September rosters and the decreased pressure of pitching for a non-contender.

But the Cubs have known Zambrano, whos still only 29, since he was a teenager, and their eyes will be wide open as they assemble their pitching staff for 2011.

Zambrano emerged after a 71-minute rain delay Tuesday night and shut down the San Francisco Giants for six scoreless innings at Wrigley Field. It was a game the Giants needed to stay in first place in the National League West, and they got it 1-0 in front of an announced crowd of 36,364.

Im really impressed with the way hes kind of reinvented himself, Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. There was a time where you didnt think hed be a factor for anybody this year.

Afterward Zambrano was asked to assess this season as a whole and he came up with one word: Bad.

The Cubs pay me to win, Zambrano said. The fans want me to win and I only have nine wins. For me, its a disappointing season, but the most important thing is I have my confidence back.

I will be back next year with the same attitude and with the same passion for the game and ready to do some damage.

Family is why Zambrano says he will finish out his current contract, which will likely run two more years, and then retire. His mother and in-laws are in the process of receiving their visas and passports. He hopes his mother will be able to see him pitch in the majors for the first time next week in Houston.

The day before Zambrano called his nephew in Venezuela, who turned 12 and was recently released from the hospital. The young boy cant walk yet, but he is talking again and has begun his rehabilitation.

What a birthday, said Zambrano, who flew home last month to visit him in intensive care. I (wished) him many, many more birthdays.

There will always be skeptics, but he seems more focused and is starting over in a sense with a different group of teammates and a new manager, whos now 17-8 on the job.

Im a big believer in what Ive seen the last six weeks, Mike Quade said. (Zambranos) been great this entire stretch. So Im more than willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that hes still a guy thats passionate about pitching, (but) maybe is channeling it a little differently.

Im really happy with the guy Ive seen. And I have no reason to doubt that thats the guy Im going to continue to see.

This game pivoted in the eighth inning the frame the Cubs hope Andrew Cashner can one day dominate when Giants rookie catcher Buster Posey drove a 96 mph fastball that ricocheted in and out of the basket in front of the batters eye in center field.

Cashner who was taken 14 spots behind Posey in the first round of the 2008 draft has been growing into the role. Since Quades promotion on Aug. 23, Cashner had been 1-0 with eight holds and a 1.38 ERA in 13 relief appearances.

Thats the best stuff Ive had in awhile, Cashner said. I tried to go away there and the ball ran back in, but its still a good pitch. You just got to tip your cap and go on to the next guy.

The Cubs (68-82) are hoping the experience gained here during moments like that will pay off in 2011. You can believe it when you see it.

If we stay healthy and we start the season the way we finish, Zambrano said, its going to be very interesting next year.

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

Podcast: Albert Almora Jr. dishes on his role and the Cubs’ unsung hero that keeps things loose behind the scenes

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USA TODAY

Podcast: Albert Almora Jr. dishes on his role and the Cubs’ unsung hero that keeps things loose behind the scenes

Albert Almora Jr. joins Kelly Crull on the Cubs Talk Podcast to weigh in on a variety of topics, including his budding bromance with rumored Cubs target Manny Machado, his expanded role and how he spends his time off away from the ballpark.

Plus, Almora has a surprise pick for the organization’s unsung hero, stating the Cubs would’ve never won the World Series without this guy.

Listen to the full Cubs Talk Podcast right here:

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."