Chicago Cubs

Cubs got it covered for Zambrano

440714.jpg

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.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Which Cub will make biggest impact down the stretch?

lester.jpg
USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Which Cub will make biggest impact down the stretch?

Ben Finfer (ESPN 1000), Chris Hine (Chicago Tribune) and Jordan Bernfield join David Kaplan on the panel. Jon Lester, Addison Russell and Willson Contreras all work out with the Cubs before their game. Which player’s return with have the biggest impact down the stretch?

Plus, the guys discuss how many snaps Mitch Trubisky should take with the first team, debate who won the big Cavs/Celtics deal and Scott Paddock drops by with the latest NASCAR news.

Listen to the SportsTalk Live Podcast below. 

Mike Montgomery will gladly aid Cubs as spot starter, but could this be a mini audition for 2018 rotation?

mike_montgomery_0821.jpg
USA TODAY

Mike Montgomery will gladly aid Cubs as spot starter, but could this be a mini audition for 2018 rotation?

Jon Lester isn’t expected to be on the disabled list for long, which of course is great news for the Cubs.

But while he’s there, it’s once again time for Mike Montgomery to audition for a spot in the team’s 2018 starting rotation.

The Cubs are facing the possibility of losing two members of that starting staff this offseason, when both Jake Arrieta and John Lackey will be free agents. Montgomery seems like a logical replacement, but he’ll need to be better than he’s been as a starter this season. He’s put up a 5.13 ERA in eight starts.

He’ll get another opportunity to show his stuff over the next week or so, as he makes one or two spot starts with Lester on the shelf resting up his left lat tightness and general shoulder fatigue.

“I don’t want to see anybody get hurt, especially our ace. But it’s a challenge. I’m looking forward to going out there and helping the team win,” Montgomery said over the weekend. “I’m going to go out there and prepare and be ready to help this team get to the playoffs.”

Montgomery doesn’t have to worry about instilling confidence in his bosses. Joe Maddon and Theo Epstein both lauded Montgomery’s efforts since he was acquired about a year ago, in the middle of the 2016 team’s march to that curse-smashing World Series win. It was Montgomery who earned the save in Game 7.

And again this season Montgomery has given plenty of reason for those guys to have confidence in him. He’s turned in a strong 2.57 ERA in 27 relief appearances, one of the more reliable arms out of what is becoming an increasingly shaky bullpen. This past Thursday, he relieved the early-to-depart Lester, pitching 4.1 shutout innings and allowing just three hits and a walk against the Cincinnati Reds.

Throw in the versatility of being able to effectively switch between starting and relieving, and that’s a recipe for sticking on a big league roster.

“He’s good about bouncing back and forth,” Maddon said. “He’s been invaluable to us the last couple years. He’s still learning his craft. Every time I talk to him it’s kind of like the little lightbulb constantly goes off for him regarding his stuff and how to utilize it. That’s what I’ve been talking about with him the last couple years. This guy’s got all kinds of tools in the toolbox but he doesn’t really know how to utilize them all, and I think he’s finally understanding the cutter, the curve, the changeup to go with the fastball. He’s one of those guys that he should never get wild with his fastball because his pitches are so good and he can throw them for a strike.”

Montgomery’s reliability has been enough that Epstein said there’s no plan for the Cubs to add another starting pitcher before this month’s waiver trade deadline. Of course, the fact that Lester’s injury isn’t as bad as initially feared and the July acquisition of Jose Quintana factors into that, as well.

“We’ve expended a lot of prospect capital trying to make this team better. We think it’s just a start or two (that Lester will miss), and Mike Montgomery is more than capable of filling in,” Epstein said. “He’s thrown the ball really well, like what we saw from him (Thursday). So we’re going to fill that vacancy internally with Mike and go from there.”

While every start made by any pitcher this season seems important — the Cubs entered Monday’s day off with just a two-game lead on the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Central standings, with a playoff spot hardly guaranteed — Montgomery’s efforts could have just as great an effect on next season. If Arrieta and Lackey both end up departing via free agency, the Cubs will need some replacements. Montgomery figures to be among the first options, especially if this midseason audition goes well.

Of course, Montgomery is happy to do whatever he needs to to help his team. He’s not complaining about a bullpen role or one that has him shuttling between the relief corps and the rotation. But he admitted that starting is his goal, meaning the importance of this moment likely hasn't been lost on him.

“Yeah, absolutely, I wanted to start. But also I wanted to be a guy who could fill another role and hopes that makes our team better,” he said. “If me starting makes us better in their mind, then that’s what I want ideally. But I’ve realized I can’t always control that, I can go out there and pitch well. If I pitch well, they’re probably going to give me more opportunities, which is probably going to lead to starting.

“I think it’s because I spent five years in Triple-A from the time I was 21 and I had a bigger ego. And then you realize that you just want to be in the big leagues and that Triple-A kind of stinks. I think it’s just how I’ve gotten to this point. And coming here last year from a team that was trying to get in the playoffs to a team that was clearly going to win the division, you realize that your role isn’t to come here and start making demands, it’s to come here and just do your job.”

Right now, the Cubs need Montgomery to fill the void while Lester rests up. And if he can make his starts look a little more like his bullpen outings, he’ll do just that. And if that’s what happens, maybe they’ll call on him next season to do a whole lot more.