Cubs got it covered for Zambrano

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Cubs got it covered for Zambrano

Friday, April 8, 2011Posted: 10:25 PM Updated: 11:49 p.m.
By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

MILWAUKEE The Cubs do not want to disrupt the peace theyve made with Carlos Zambrano. Even though they are missing two rotation pieces, and paying him almost 18 million this season, they do not want to raise the stakes.

The minute you try to do too much in this game, manager Mike Quade said, youre done.

So everyone will have to make up the difference now that Randy Wells and Andrew Cashner are on the disabled list. But a healthy, focused Zambrano will mean so much to the Cubs. They cant be worrying about his fifth day.

Zambrano didnt have to be perfect on Friday night at Miller Park, or throw a no-hitter like he did here in 2008. He did enough as the Cubs put together a 7-4 win over the Milwaukee Brewers.

Were worried about those two guys, Zambrano said. We need Cashner and Wellsy back. (But) we have to keep going and keep doing our job.

Zambrano stayed in the picture after Prince Fielder launched a homer into the left-field bullpen and the Cubs fell behind 2-0 in the second. The Brewers worked Zambrano over for four runs on seven hits and three walks.

Every so often when you dont have your best stuff and youre not mowing through a lineup, Quade said, you just hang around and wait for your club to come back. You find a way to give us six innings, and he did that. Thats huge.

That allowed the Cubs (4-3) to finish the game the way the front office drew it up in the offseason.

Sean Marshall, Kerry Wood and Carlos Marmol combined for three scoreless innings to close out the Brewers (3-5). Marmol again made it interesting by letting the tying run come to the plate. But the closer ended it by striking out Carlos Gomez with an 80 mph slider.

Obviously, I want to go seven or eight innings, Zambrano said with a smile, but the bullpen (has) to eat, too.

Quades philosophy is to mix-and-match and it will be like that in the bullpen, with the rotation and at leadoff.

With Brewers lefty Randy Wolf starting, Jeff Baker found himself at the top of Fridays lineup. The second baseman tied a career-high with four hits, including a three-run homer and an RBI single in the sixth inning.

Youd definitely like to give those guys a blow, Baker said. Whether its the guys we penciled in at the beginning of the year (that) are down, whether its Casey Coleman or James Russell, (you) want to give them a cushion to kind of take the pressure off them.

It was good for us to set a tone and hopefully we can get this ball rolling.

The Cubs promised that well find out what theyre made of during this nine-game road trip.

This crowd of 34,310 wasnt exactly hostile and filled with plenty of Cubs fans. They didnt see Zambrano leave his start early because of cramps in his right hand, like Wrigley Field did last week. He said he drank more fluids, lots of Gatorade, and didnt experience any cramping issues this time.

Zambrano still hasnt lost a game since June 25, 2010, the day he blew up at Derrek Lee in front of everyone in the U.S. Cellular Field dugout. He says that hes done talking, that he wants his actions to speak for him. Hes on a nine-game winning streak now.

Zambrano wants to blend in and be just another pitcher. For the Cubs, will that be enough? When a reporter asked how long it will take him to regain the dominant form he showed late last season, he playfully brushed the question aside.

Im keeping the streak, he said. What else do you want me to do? Its about winning.

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

Cy Young candidate Kyle Hendricks destroys another NL lineup as Cubs top Pirates

Cy Young candidate Kyle Hendricks destroys another NL lineup as Cubs top Pirates

Kyle Hendricks continued his systematic destruction of National League lineups on Tuesday night at Wrigley Field, shutting down the Pittsburgh Pirates during a 3-0 victory that highlighted his Cy Young Award potential.

Hendricks, who leads the majors in ERA, sliced his number down to 2.09, throwing seven scoreless innings as the Cubs continued their march toward a division title and what they expect will be a deep run into October.

Hendricks (13-7) has grown from a nominal fifth starter into someone near the front of a playoff rotation, neutralizing entire lineups with his curveball and four-seam fastball — which make his changeup and two-seam fastball that much more effective — while turning opponents into very-good-hitting pitchers (sub-.600 OPS).

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On the one-year anniversary of Jake Arrieta’s no-hitter/onesie press conference at Dodger Stadium, Hendricks didn’t allow a hit until Gregory Polanco’s soft single to center field leading off the fifth inning.

Hendricks had faced the minimum through four innings and wound up throwing 99 pitches, 61 for strikes, giving up only two more hits and not allowing any Pirates to go past second base.

The Cubs (84-47) gave Hendricks — a pitcher already working with a quiet confidence and a specific game plan in mind — an early lead when Anthony Rizzo slammed a Chad Kuhl fastball off the small video panel above the right-field wall for a two-run homer in the first inning.

Whether or not Rizzo can catch up to Kris Bryant in the MVP race, Hendricks has to be among the leading Cy Young candidates, given his remarkable consistency (18 straight starts with three earned runs or less) and strong second-half push.

Why Jake Arrieta almost quit baseball — and what that means for Tommy La Stella

Why Jake Arrieta almost quit baseball — and what that means for Tommy La Stella

There were times Jake Arrieta felt like quitting baseball, wondering if this really was the best way to support his family as he bounced between the Baltimore Orioles and their Triple-A affiliate in Norfolk, Va.

It wasn’t just his dream anymore. Arrieta had to think about a wife (Brittany), a young son (Cooper) and a daughter (Palmer) on the way. He had a business background at Texas Christian University, an inquisitive, engaging personality and enough confidence and connections to launch his next act.

The year after being Baltimore’s Opening Day starter, Arrieta found himself back in Triple-A by late April 2013, the fourth season he spent time on that level.

“We were at a point where I had other things that I could segue into and establish a career elsewhere,” Arrieta said Tuesday, the one-year anniversary of his no-hitter at Dodger Stadium, where the Cubs popped champagne bottles and partied in their onesies, showing the full force of their personalities. “Not that I wanted that to happen, but I didn’t want to continue to go through the things we were going through and moving from place to place in the minor leagues at 25, 26 years old.

“Baseball is something that I’ve loved to do since I was a little kid, but it’s not everything. I had to reevaluate some things. I knew I could always pitch this way, but there were times where it seemed like maybe I wasn’t going to get to that point.

“It’s just part of life that we had to deal with.”

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That big-picture perspective should help Tommy La Stella once he returns to the Wrigley Field clubhouse — possibly as soon as this week when the rosters expand for September — and goes into damage-control mode.

Arrieta has remained in frequent contact with La Stella since the reserve infielder/left-handed pinch-hitter refused to report to Triple-A Iowa in late July, moved back to his home in New Jersey, told ESPN he would consider retirement if he couldn’t play for the big-league Cubs and finally ended his holdout in the middle of August.

“I really care about Tommy,” Arrieta said. “He’s ready to kind of explain to the team what he was going through, because there’s a lot of confusion, rightfully so. But I take the baseball aspect completely out of it and I look at it from just a human-being perspective. I can relate to him on a lot of different levels.

“I know that there were things that he was going through and dealing with (that) we may not agree with and understand.

“But we don’t have to. There are certain things that he’s needed to deal with — and he’s at the point now where he’s willing and able to convey the message to the guys in this clubhouse.

“He can help us win games, so he’s a guy that we definitely need in this clubhouse. He’s ready to address the team — (and) move past it and get back to being a part of the team.”

Arrieta’s late-blooming career is a testament to willpower and perseverance, taking advantage of that change-of-scenery trade to the Cubs in the middle of the 2013 season and evolving into the National League’s reigning Cy Young Award winner.

Even during a season where he has at times struggled to command his fastball and felt out of rhythm, Arrieta is still 16-5 with a 2.84 ERA for the best team in baseball, yet another sign of how much he has grown as a person and as a pitcher.

Going AWOL wasn’t the answer then — and it wasn’t a smart play for La Stella now — but at least Arrieta recognizes those anxieties and insecurities. Maybe that sense of leadership will help smooth over any awkwardness inside a laissez-faire clubhouse known for its late arrival times, loud music and Party Room.

“On a long drive — or when the game’s over, just sitting there thinking about where I see myself in the near future — it wasn’t there,” Arrieta said. “I wasn’t going to just continue to pitch in the minor leagues for another five or six years. If I wasn’t good enough to get the job done, I would move on to somewhere (else) where I was.

“There’s a lot out there other than baseball. But, obviously, this is ultimately where I wanted to be. It was just a point in life where there was some uncertainty there. And you address it, you deal with it and you move past it.”

Why the Cubs skipped Tim Tebow's showcase

Why the Cubs skipped Tim Tebow's showcase

The Cubs have built the scouting-and-player-development machine Theo Epstein promised when he took over baseball operations at Wrigley Field, assembling the game’s best team with homegrown talent, shrewd trades and big-money free agents.

The Cubs will kick the tires on just about any idea that might make the organization incrementally better, which makes their absence from Tim Tebow’s showcase on Tuesday so telling.

The Cubs skipped Tebow’s workout on the University of Southern California campus, sources said, viewing it as a promotional stunt for the former NFL quarterback and 2007 Heisman Trophy winner. With all due respect, as Joe Maddon might say, whenever the manager quotes Will Ferrell’s Ricky Bobby character in “Talladega Nights.”

Tebow’s name recognition and high-powered representation (Creative Artists Agency) helped him reportedly draw scouts from 27 major-league clubs to watch him run the 60-yard dash, react in the outfield and take batting practice.

Tebow — who won two national championships at the University of Florida, works as an ESPN analyst and stays involved with faith-based charities — hasn’t played baseball since high school.

“I saw his swing on the video — it was a decent hack,” Maddon said. “At 29 years old, it’s not easy to pull off, but good for him. If he wants to give it a run, go for it.”