Angel Guzman doesnt live with regrets

400059.jpg

Angel Guzman doesnt live with regrets

Tuesday, March 1, 2011
6:30 PM
By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. As good as Carlos Zambrano, the Cubs say when they look back on what Angel Guzman used to be.

That seems like a lifetime ago, but coming up through the system, the Cubs were high on two pitchers from Venezuela. One now has a guaranteed 91.5 million contract, while the other is working on a minor-league deal.

At the age of 29, Guzman does not view that as unfair, or wonder about what might have been. Eleven months after arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder, he is focused on throwing batting practice on Wednesday, for the first time all over again.

I never paid attention to that at all when I was younger, Guzman said. I wouldnt change anything. I would do it the same way (as Im) doing it right now. Just keep it simple (be) a humble guy and just live in the reality.

Guzman was a pitcher the Cubs could dream about. Perceptions started changing in 2003, when Dr. James Andrews operated on Guzmans shoulder to repair a small tear in the back of his labrum. That was right around the time he should have been playing in the All-Star Futures Game.

My first look at him was like: Oh my God, said Cubs manager Mike Quade, who watched Guzman in camp and had him at Triple-A Iowa. And there were a lot of moments in his career in between the injury issues where thats what you saw. He was an exciting young prospect, for sure: Stuff, stature, a tall (kid with) good life (on his pitches). There were a lot of things to like.

Andrews, one of the most famous names in sports medicine, would also perform Guzmans Tommy John surgery in 2007, as well as the procedure last March. By then, everything was closing in on Guzman. He was already recovering from knee surgery, and dealing with the loss of his brother, who was murdered last year in Venezuela.

Its one of the cruelties of the game, Quade said. Hes a guy you root for, a long shot, (but) Ive played a few of those and cashed.

All this has given Guzman remarkable perspective. He spent all last season in Arizona, fighting the loneliness by working out in the brutal desert heat. Hes feeling better, but through experience knows that this will be a slow process.

Guzmans shown that he can do the job he posted a 2.95 ERA in 55 games out of the Cubs bullpen in 2009 but the Cubs cant count on him because of those medical records. His goal is to leave Mesa by May if everything goes the right way and head to a minor-league affiliate.

They want me to come back and every single guy in this clubhouse is showing me support, Guzman said. Its something that you really have to appreciate. (The Cubs) have been waiting for me for so long. Its something that really motivates you to become a better person, a better player, a better teammate.

Guzman became a free agent this offseason, and could have signed elsewhere, but returned to the organization hes been a part of since the Clinton administration.

The Cubs will keep giving him chances until he finally breaks down and really cant pitch anymore. And then theyll want to hire him to work in their player-development department. Because hed be a strong voice to talk straight with the Latin kids and the pitchers who think they already have it all figured out.

For Guzman, this gets tiresome, because with each injury its the same answers to the same questions. And against the odds, he tries to maintain the same positive outlook.

If youre really into the sport, it gets you, Guzman said, but (it makes you) stronger.

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

Wake-up Call: Comeback Cubs; White Sox lose eighth straight game

Wake-up Call: Comeback Cubs; White Sox lose eighth straight game

Kris Bryant ignites World Series nostalgia with Cubs' epic eighth-inning comeback

White Sox manager Rick Renteria 'surprised' Melky Cabrera hasn't been traded

Familiar problems for Fire in loss at New York City FC

After losing uncle, emotional Jon Lester pays tribute with Notre Dame rallying cry

Royals think White Sox have done 'phenomenal job' acquiring young talent

For the Blackhawks defense, change is the new normal

With Kyle Hendricks back in the mix, Cubs set rotation for Crosstown series with White Sox

What White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson is doing to combat second-year struggles

Blackhawks: Tommy Wingels fractures foot, will be ready for training camp

Freak of nature: Kris Bryant wows again with insane healing ability

Kris Bryant ignites World Series nostalgia with Cubs' epic eighth-inning comeback

Kris Bryant ignites World Series nostalgia with Cubs' epic eighth-inning comeback

“Reminded me a lot of a play in the World Series.”

Kris Bryant wasn’t the only one with World Series nostalgia Saturday afternoon at the Friendly Confines. The tens of thousands of Cubs fans losing their minds over the North Siders’ eighth-inning comeback made that very clear.

Bryant, though, was the one who provided it, first driving in the game-tying run mere moments after the visiting St. Louis Cardinals smashed open a pitchers duel with back-to-back homers off Jon Lester in the top of the eighth. Bryant then got a head starts and came around all the way from first, scoring the game-winning run on a ball Anthony Rizzo dumped into the left-center field gap so perfectly he couldn’t have thrown it there any better.

Bryant slid in — feet first — beating the throw home from ex-teammate Dexter Fowler. Cue the hysteria at Clark and Addison.

“Me, honestly, I was just trying to go up the middle. I think that’s kind of where I’ve been struggling this year is with guys on base I want to do too much. Just seeing through the middle. Bat broke and flew, I don’t know where it went, but it flew somewhere. That was huge,” Bryant explained after the game.

“And then obviously with Rizz having a good at-bat off a tough lefty. I don't know if Dexter or Tommy Pham got a good read or if they were way back at the track, but right when he hit it I didn’t see them anywhere close to it so I thought there was a pretty good chance that I could score.”

Bryant’s very presence in the Cubs’ starting lineup was the headline before the game, the “freak of nature” returning from a jammed finger after missing only one game. So of course it was the reigning National League MVP who played the biggest role, flipping the script from his sick day by being right in the middle of the Cubs’ eighth-inning explosion. It was the eighth inning where the Cardinals staged their game-defining rally Friday.

[CUBS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

Manager Joe Maddon went as far as saying that perhaps only Bryant could have made the play he did, scoring from first base on what went down as a Rizzo double.

“KB being able to play was the difference in today’s game,” Maddon said. “A combination of the hit and his speed. I don’t think anybody else scores on that. Maybe Jason (Heyward), possibly. (Ian) Happ, possibly. But KB is such a good base runner. He had it in his head the moment the ball was hit, and all (third base coach Gary) Jones had to do was wave his arm. You can’t underestimate the importance of one person in the lineup.

“He’s a very bright base runner. He’s shown that from the beginning. … He demonstrated that early on, and for me when a young player demonstrates awareness on the bases, man, that’s a good baseball player.”

All that talent made Bryant last season’s Most Valuable Player and one of the most important figures in the curse-breaking World Series championship.

Bryant mentioned he thought Saturday’s game-winning trip from first to home conjured memories of a similar play in Game 7 of last fall’s World Series, when Bryant went first to home on Rizzo’s base hit off Andrew Miller in the fifth inning.

“Reminded me a lot of a play in the World Series off of Andrew Miller. It was a full count there, started early,” Bryant said. “Rizz hit it, you’ve got to give him a ton of credit, worked a great at-bat. But the head start really does help. It's something that I take pride in is my base running, surprising people. Hopefully I did that today.”

With Bryant back in the lineup Saturday, Kyle Hendricks’ return to the rotation coming Monday, a now 7-1 record since the All-Star break and a bunched-up NL Central that had four teams within three and a half games of each other entering Saturday’s action, it’s no wonder the World Series feeling is making its way back to the North Side.

All season long, fans and observers have been waiting for that switch to flip, and maybe it finally has.

The bats were thunderous on that six-game road trip out of the All-Star break, with 16 home runs helping the Cubs to back-to-back sweeps of the Baltimore Orioles and Atlanta Braves. Friday’s loss to the Cardinals provided plenty of evidence that the rest of the season might feature a knock-down, drag-out slugfest between the four NL Central contenders. All that was missing was a game that got Wrigleyville rocking.

“Probably one of our better wins of the year,” Bryant said.

That’s all without even mentioning the efforts of Lester, who was perfect until Adam Wainwright’s single in the top of the sixth. It was another stellar effort from a Cubs starting pitcher, and what was the team’s biggest problem during that sub-.500 first half — inconsistent starting pitching — certainly seems to be ironed out.

While the standings say it’s still going to be a brawl to the end with the Cardinals, Milwaukee Brewers and Pittsburgh Pirates, the Cubs could be in a first-place tie by the end of Saturday night.

In other words, the race is on. And Bryant and the Cubs are clicking at the right time.

“It’s already Jaugust,” Maddon joked, inventing a new month out of thin air. “There’s no waiting around right now. Everybody feels the same way. We took advantage of the break, I believe. We came back with renewed energy. You don’t want to give up anything right now.”