After comeback win, Zambrano sees big picture

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After comeback win, Zambrano sees big picture

Saturday, April 2, 2011Posted: 3:00 PM Updated: 5:15 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

There is the theory that Carlos Zambrano will have an outsized influence on this season: The Cubs will go as he does in 2011.

That makes the day Zambrano pitches like watching NASCAR, waiting for the crash. Fair or not, thats what everyones curious about -- how he will respond to the next crisis. You can never blend in with a 91.5 million contract.

But Zambrano cant always be the entire story. It took a team effort to complete Saturdays 5-3 comeback victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates at Wrigley Field.

The Cubs dont necessarily need Zambrano to be what he was at the end of last season unbeatable at 8-0 with a 1.41 ERA in his final 11 starts. They are counting on 200 innings, quality starts from here until September.

Hes in good shape and hes working hard, Alfonso Soriano said. I think hes a totally different guy. I hope that hell be consistentfrom the beginning to the end because hes got the talent and he has the pitches.

Hes more calmed down and he knows what hes doing.

Zambrano pitched well enough before leaving with cramps in his right hand. Garrett Jones had just slammed an 81 mph pitch into the right-field bleachers to open the seventh inning. Zambrano felt something in his hamstring warming up and had nothing at that point.

Athletic trainer Mark ONeal and manager Mike Quade walked out to the mound. That was it for Zambrano, who was pulled after 99 pitches and the Cubs trailing 3-0.

Nothing serious, Quade said. I guess he thought he could get through it and I wish we would have made a decision about it before the home run (but) he was real good.

Its a fine line. I love the fact you want to go back out there, but lets make sure (youre OK). Were also talking about the first start of the year, so theres a lot of baseball left to be played.

Zambrano who gave up three runs on five hits and three walks in six innings wasnt concerned and said hell make his next start.

Just cramping, but Ill be OK, he said. Theres nothing I can do about it.

It probably says something that Zambrano gave the Cubs their first extra-base hit of the season with a double to center in third inning.

The Cubs (1-1) got the leadoff man on in the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh innings. But for the 35,782 fans sitting outside on a 46-degree afternoon, there wasnt any payoff until the eighth.

Pinch-hitter Kosuke Fukudome drew a walk, ran to second on Evan Meeks wild pitch and scored on Starlin Castros double into the right-field ivy. Castro scored when first baseman Lyle Overbay booted a groundball.

The Pirates (1-1) started to resemble the team that lost 105 games last year and finished with a 5.00 staff ERA that ranked last in the majors.

Soriano tied the game with single to right-center field before an unlikely hero emerged.

Blake DeWitt who isnt out of minor-league options struggled so much this spring that some wondered whether he would even make the team. The Cubs pushed him back on the second-base depth chart and made him a utility infielder. He put them ahead with a pinch-hit, two-run double to left.

Its a team, DeWitt said. Were all competing for the same thing. You better be ready. Youre not just playing for yourself. Youre playing for the other 24 guys in this clubhouse.

That five-run burst was enough for Kerry Wood, Sean Marshall and Carlos Marmol. Together they combined for three scoreless innings out of the bullpen, just the way the Cubs drew it up in the offseason.

Marmol struck out the side in the ninth inning but gave the ball to Quade after the first victory in 2011. It will take a group effort.

Everybodys happy, Zambrano said. Everybody collaborated to win. (Were) pretty excited when everybody puts in a little bit of whatever they had to.

PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Report: Dexter Fowler closing in on deal with Cardinals

Report: Dexter Fowler closing in on deal with Cardinals

Dexter Fowler won't be making a surprise return to the Cubs next season.

Fowler is closing in on a deal to sign with the St. Louis Cardinals, according to USA Today's Bob Nightengale.

The Cubs signed outfielder Jon Jay last week to a one-year deal, pretty much sealing Fowler's future with the Cubs.

In two seasons in Chicago, Fowler batted .261/.367/.427 with 30 home runs and 94 RBI, and a World Series ring.

Koji Uehara would add another dimension to Cubs bullpen

Koji Uehara would add another dimension to Cubs bullpen

The Cubs are reportedly on the verge of adding another pitcher who’s notched the final out of a World Series as Theo Epstein’s front office builds out the bullpen for manager Joe Maddon.

The Cubs are nearing a one-year, $4.5 million deal with Koji Uehara, according to Nikkan Sports in Japan, which would open up even more possibilities for the defending champs in front of All-Star closer Wade Davis.

The Cubs made their biggest splash during this week’s winter meetings at National Harbor in Maryland by trading young outfielder Jorge Soler to the Kansas City Royals for Davis, who finished off Game 5 in the 2015 World Series.

Uehara closed out the 2013 World Series for the Boston Red Sox, the beginning of three straight seasons where he put up 20-plus saves. The Cubs have not confirmed an agreement is in place.

The Cubs needed another lefty presence with Mike Montgomery – the pitcher on the mound when the 108-year drought ended in November – moving to the rotation and Travis Wood likely leaving as a free agent.

Uehara throws right-handed, but he shuts down left-handed hitters (.183 batting average, .555 OPS across 800 at-bats) and has appeared in seven postseason series after a distinguished career in Japan.

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Uehara will turn 42 the day after Opening Day. But an array of relievers should help preserve Uehara, strengthen Carl Edwards Jr. (who’s generously listed at 170 pounds) and maybe prevent the late-season injuries that marginalized Hector Rondon and Pedro Strop during the playoffs.

“We’re going to try to build up a ton of depth,” Epstein said. “We’re going to try to build up a really talented, deep bullpen with a lot of different options that you can use in close games.

“Instead of three late-game options, it would be ideal if you had five or six. And you could always like who you’re turning to in the ‘pen and not feel the need to use a Rondon four out of five times.

“(We could) use them every other day and occasional back-to-backs. And that would help keep them fresh down the stretch – and help keep them strong in October.”