Cubs notes: Zambrano starts strong

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Cubs notes: Zambrano starts strong

Sunday, Feb. 27, 2011
Posted 7:10 p.m.
By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

MESA, Ariz. This was quiet, boring, efficient exactly the way Carlos Zambrano wants it to be this year. Hes not here to talk about the past, or make predictions or call himself the ace.

Zambranos already been bumped from what would have been his seventh consecutive Opening Day start. Hes handled the news well so far, and got through the first Cactus League game by throwing two scoreless innings in a 15-7 loss to the Oakland As at HoHoKam Park.

It was good to see him attack that strike zone, first baseman Carlos Pena said. It looked like he had a lot of confidence going. You cant say too much about the first game of spring training, (but) its always nice to see good things happen.

Thats where the Cubs are at with Zambrano, cautiously optimistic that he can again be a front-line starter. He struck out the first two As swinging and faced the minimum six batters. He says the addition of Matt Garza hasnt changed the equation for him.

I have to go about my business, Zambrano said. I have to pitch my game and go out there every fifth day and compete, give the best that I have to win that game. . Hopefully we can all stay healthy and do some damage.

The Cubs havent always been certain that theyll get that from Zambrano. Theyll take any small step in the right direction.

It was fun to watch him, manager Mike Quade said. I dont know what his velocities were, but it looked like he was throwing the ball as well as Id seen, (which isnt surprising), because when hes got adrenaline going, look out.

Piniellas shadow

Before his first game as a major-league manager last August, Quade referenced John Wooden, and how the legendary UCLA basketball coach would always talk about the process. That player-development idea guided his 37-game audition, and ultimately won him the job. It will be the same in the Cactus League, where Lou Piniella would take losses harder than most.

I care a little bit, (but) Im more interested in performance and progress, Quade said. If we come out here and execute and play well and somebody beats us, (then) thats ok. But Lou didnt like to lose at anything and he was incredibly competitive. You pick up on that very quickly, as does the club.

The players have picked up a different vibe under Quade, who didnt attach much significance to managing his first spring-training game, or leading his own club against an As organization that once let him go. He concedes that he diverges from Piniella in style, but not substance.

Were running the same fundamentals, Quade said. There may be some really subtle differences, but if you look at the schedule every day, you see its pretty much the same. And then its just about how a veteran manager goes about his day, versus how a young guy who wants to be a veteran manager someday goes about his. Our personalities are different, but theres no question that our goals are the same.

Coming up

Monday vs. Milwaukee Brewers in Mesa: RHP Randy Wells vs. RHP Tim Dillard, 2:05 p.m., WGN-AM 720. Cubs pitchers Andrew Cashner, Kerry Wood and Sean Marshall are also scheduled to throw. Tuesday at San Francisco Giants in Scottsdale: RHP Ryan Dempster vs. TBA, 2:05 p.m., Cubs.com audio broadcast. Quade plans to play Tyler Colvin at first base this week, perhaps as early as Thursday.

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

Brett Anderson’s personality mixing well with Cubs: ‘I don’t hate anybody yet’

Brett Anderson’s personality mixing well with Cubs: ‘I don’t hate anybody yet’

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Joe Maddon's T-shirt slogans can get a little old at times, but the Cubs manager found a new audience in Brett Anderson, who liked the idea of "Be Uncomfortable" after signing a one-year, prove-it deal with the defending champs.

"It's been awesome so far," Anderson said. "That's my running joke – we're a month into it now or whatever it is – and I don't hate anybody yet.

"That's a testament to the group as a whole – and maybe me evolving as a person."

Yes, Anderson's sarcasm, social-media presence and groundball style fits in with a team built around short-term pitching and Gold Glove defense. The if-healthy lefty finished his Cactus League tour on Saturday afternoon by throwing four innings (one unearned run) during a 7-4 loss to the Colorado Rockies in front of 13,565 at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick.

Anderson will open the season as the No. 4 starter after a camp that has been remarkably low-key and drama-free.

"I'm kind of cynical by nature, but it's a fun group to be a part of," Anderson said, "(with) young guys that are exciting and happy to be here. And then obviously the mix of veterans, too, that are here with intentions of winning another World Series."

To make that happen, the pitching staff will have to again stay unbelievably healthy. Anderson rolled with a general question about how he physically feels now compared to where he's usually at by this time of year.

"Obviously better than last year, because I was walking with a gimp and all that stuff," said Anderson, who underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair a bulging disk in his lower back last March. "No, my body feels good, my arm feels good and you're getting into the dog days of spring training where you're itching to get to the real thing."

Joe Maddon breaks down the Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella decision for Cubs

Joe Maddon breaks down the Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella decision for Cubs

MESA, Ariz. – Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella appears to be the final decision as the Cubs shape their Opening Night roster.

That's assuming good health – manager Joe Maddon sounded unconcerned about Ben Zobrist (stiff neck), Addison Russell (stiff back) and Albert Almora Jr. (stiff neck) – and the Cubs carrying an eight-man bullpen.

Maddon appeared to eliminate one variable, confirming that La Stella has signaled a willingness to go to Triple-A Iowa if necessary, which would normally be an obvious statement, except for last summer's "Where's Tommy?" episode.

"I haven't even thought about it," Maddon said during Saturday's media session at the Sloan Park complex. "It's not an issue. I thought we handled it pretty openly last year and there's been no blowback whatsoever from the players."

Beyond this – La Stella initially refused to report to the minors last July, moved back home to New Jersey and talked briefly about retirement – an American League scout and a National League scout tracking the Cubs in Arizona both agreed that Szczur looks like the superior player.

Plus Szczur – and not La Stella – is out of minor-league options now.

"When you get this kind of a talent, depth-wise, it's a wonderful problem to have," Maddon said. "And then, of course, the rules start creeping in. The rules in this situation would benefit Matt, which is a good thing, because he's a big-league guy that's been riding the shuttle. He's done it in a very stoic manner, and he's been great for us."

La Stella has allies in the clubhouse – Jake Arrieta got a Coastal Carolina tattoo on his right butt cheek after losing a College World Series bet – and goes about his routine in a quiet, diligent manner.

La Stella is not a distraction at all and can hit left-handed and play the infield – two attributes that Szczur can't bring to Maddon's bench.

"Matt Szczur, to me, is a Major League Baseball player," Maddon said. "You're seeing what Tommy can do from the left side of the plate right now. And then it's just a matter of balancing things out. We've already mentioned that some guys on the infield can play the outfield within this group, thus it presents differently regarding what you need."

[MORE CUBS: Javier Baez won’t change his style around Cubs after World Baseball Classic: ‘We’re not showing anybody up’]

Szczur is hitting .361 with a .994 OPS through 14 Cactus League games and can play all over the outfield. But that skill is diminished when the Cubs already have four established outfielders plus Zobrist and Kris Bryant able to shift from the infield.

Then again, defensive wizard Javier Baez should have the Cubs covered all across the infield in case of an emergency. With the defending World Series champs a week out from facing the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium, we're about to find out if Maddon made his recommendation or had a possible trade scenario or disabled-list situation in mind.

"I love Matt Szczur," Maddon said. "This guy as a teammate – you're not going to get a better one. Nobody's going to get a better one on any team for any reason.

"We haven't decided everything or anything yet. Stuff happens in a very short period of time. He is a major-league baseball player. So we'll just wait a couple more days, see how it plays out. But he's a benefit to any group that has him."