Hoax rips Hendry, Zambrano quiets trade talk

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Hoax rips Hendry, Zambrano quiets trade talk

Saturday, Sept. 11, 2010
Updated 12:22 AM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

MILWAUKEE Combined the Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers began Friday 32.5 games out of first place. They are evaluating players for 2011, and weighing whether or not to bring their managers back next season.

If by the middle of September you are looking for a new angle to this I-94 rivalry, there it was at the back of the Miller Park press box. On a table filled with game notes and statistics packets, you saw a press release with this headline: A NEW BOOK CERTAIN TO BE A BEST SELLER!

It hyped a book by Cubs general manager Jim Hendry entitled: How to Finish Near Last Place with the Highest Payroll in the League. It outlined chapters like: Why I signed Milton Bradley! and Why I signed players to long-term contracts with limited trade options!

It was a juvenile hoax that ripped Hendry who did not travel with the team to Milwaukee and came across as more bizarre than funny. As in, how does something like this happen in a media workroom where three guards are stationed at the main entrance?

Hendry is tied to Carlos Zambrano, who has a no-trade clause in his 91.5 million contract and knows that he is paid to perform like one of the best pitchers in the National League.

Dominant again he almost threw a complete-game shutout on Friday night Zambrano doesnt want to hear about where he could be dealt this winter.

Im happy here, he said after a 4-0 victory over the Brewers. I love this team and I want to stay here the rest of my contract. No more trade talk.

Thats a far less nuanced answer than Zambrano gave when he came off the restricted list and said he would have to listen if the Cubs no longer wanted him around. Since rejoining the rotation on Aug. 9, the 29-year-old right-hander is 5-0 with a 1.60 ERA in seven starts.

Mike Quade has been given no details on the anger-management sessions Hendry negotiated for his volatile pitcher after he got in Derrek Lees face in the U.S. Cellular Field dugout. But the manager sees a much calmer Zambrano, who allowed only three hits and struck nine in 8 23 innings against the Brewers (65-75).

I know winning is good therapy, Quade said. Not only are you allowed to get better, but youre allowed to mature. Thats none of my business to be perfectly honest (but) whatever hes doing, I really hope he keeps doing it.

A Cubs spokesman declined to comment on the stack of false Hendry documents that was removed from the press box. Brewers vice president of communications Tyler Barnes said his department issues hundreds of credentials to individuals across the country.

Its impossible to know where this came from, Barnes said. Its an unfortunate incident. Its a lousy attempt at a practical joke, and were certainly sorry.

While speaking on or off the record, Hendry has a phrase he likes to use: Thats the world we live in. That goes for all the trade rumors and speculation that inevitably surround his job. You can safely file fake press release under that category.

Hendry has been up-front this 61-80 season hasnt lived up to anyones expectations. But he is the first general manager in franchise history to see the Cubs reach the postseason three times during his tenure (2003, 2007 and 2008).

And Hendry has earned the confidence of new ownership chairman Tom Ricketts is waiting on his short list of manager candidates and thats the only perception that matters.

Zambrano feels like hes done everything his bosses have asked. He didnt get upset when Starlin Castro committed an error with two outs in the ninth inning and Quade summoned closer Carlos Marmol for the final out. He thinks he can repair relationships with the rest of the organization.

People make mistakes, not only players, but people in the front office, Zambrano said. Were human. The most important thing here is that we learn the lesson and keep calm. You cant put your head down and think about what happened (on June 25).

You have to keep your head up and work like a winner. Theres nothing you can do about it just keep pitching, just keep doing your job and everybody will (say good things) about you.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Cubs catcher Willson Contreras looks ready for prime time

Cubs catcher Willson Contreras looks ready for prime time

SAN DIEGO – Within 24 hours at Petco Park, Cubs catcher Willson Contreras handled the wild movement of Jake Arrieta’s pitches and framed the edges of the strike zone for Kyle Hendricks, showing the dexterity to handle a playoff rotation.

Contreras looked ready for prime time on Tuesday night and Wednesday afternoon, helping shut down the San Diego Padres and complete a three-game sweep where two National League Cy Young Award candidates found a rhythm while throwing to a rookie catcher.

“Everything’s a lot easier,” Contreras said after a 6-3 victory. “I’m way more comfortable right now, because my first week everything was speeding up on me. But now I’m able to slow down the game and do my job.” 

The day after Arrieta fell one inning short of a two-hit, complete-game shutout, Hendricks credited Contreras for calling more curveballs and getting him through a stretch where the Padres put the leadoff man on base in each of the first four innings. 

“From the get-go, I wasn’t shaking him off,” Hendricks said. “We’ve been rolling for the last five, six starts, at least. It’s been easy.” 

Contreras has now caught Arrieta twice, and got one-start exposure to Jon Lester, while developing chemistry with Hendricks, John Lackey and Jason Hammel, which means veteran catcher Miguel Montero might not have a spot on the postseason roster if this continues.

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Contreras is a dynamic presence, launching his eighth home run on Wednesday afternoon and keeping the Padres stationary after Tuesday night’s laser throw to pick off a runner at third base. 

“I was waiting for somebody to run,” Contreras said. “But they didn’t run, so I’ll have to save it for another game.”

The Cubs are nearing the point where a 24-year-old player who didn’t make his big-league debut until June 17 could be behind the plate for the biggest games in franchise history.

“In this clubhouse, we are like a family,” Contreras said. “Once you get here, you start feeling comfortable the first day. You don’t even know that you are a rookie who just came up.”

Kyle Hendricks keeps rolling as Cubs sweep away Padres

Kyle Hendricks keeps rolling as Cubs sweep away Padres

SAN DIEGO – Kyle Hendricks reported to spring training as a fifth starter, leads the majors in ERA in late August and could pitch Game 1 in a playoff series. That gradual evolution from possible question mark at the back of the rotation into a National League Cy Young Award candidate highlights how the Cubs have transformed from a team that won the offseason to one that owns the summer and maybe this fall. 

In his own understated way, Hendricks smashed any perceptions of that ceiling, performing at a level and with a consistency that matches the franchise’s young hitting stars, mirroring their baseball IQ and grounded nature, without the billboards and flair for social media. 

Hendricks kept rolling on a beautiful Wednesday afternoon at Petco Park, knocking the San Diego Padres off-balance and finishing the three-game sweep with a 6-3 victory. That pushed the Cubs to 36 games over .500 for the first time since finishing their 1945 pennant-winning season at 98-56. The best team in baseball could play a little over .500 (19-17) down the stretch and still reach 100 wins.

A Dartmouth College graduate with an Ivy League degree in economics helped create all this momentum – and certainly knows what he wants to do on the mound – but Hendricks as an ace still seems beyond the wildest internal preseason projection.

“I thought he ended really well last year and that there was a lot to look forward to,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He’s just taken it to another level right now. He’s in that 26-27-year-old range where a young pitcher who’s had some major-league experience can really find his next level. And I think that’s what’s going on. He’s such a wonderful student. The difference between last year and this year is the confidence thing: ‘I belong here. I can do this. I’m one of the best.’ 

“A lot of our guys are going through that moment right now. And I think that’s what you’re seeing out of Kyle. I’ve talked about the couple tweaks he’s made regarding the four-seam fastball and curveball usage. That makes him a little bit different. But more than anything, I think he believes he’s among the best right now.”

The Padres (53-74) looked a little checked out and didn’t really put much pressure on a Cubs team that should get an adrenaline boost this weekend at Dodger Stadium. Dexter Fowler and Kris Bryant opened the game with back-to-back doubles before Ben Zobrist lined a two-run triple into the right-center field gap. Within six minutes of Paul Clemens’ first pitch, Jorge Soler’s sacrifice fly made it 3-0.

Hendricks hasn’t allowed more than three earned runs in a start since May 17, a run of 17 straight outings that has sliced his ERA from 3.51 to 2.19 while pushing his record to 12-7.

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Hendricks hides his emotions and didn’t get flustered when the Padres put the leadoff man on base in each of the first four innings, working around the traffic to limit San Diego to two runs and finish with eight strikeouts. 

Hendricks made it through six innings – he’s now gone at least five in each of his 24 starts this year – after beginning the day with a FanGraphs soft-hit rate (26 percent of batted balls) that led the majors and would be the highest mark in the last five seasons.

Hendricks has to pitch a different game than Jake Arrieta, but with an 8-1 record and a 1.38 ERA in his last 13 starts, he might be this year’s breakthrough performer who helps carry the Cubs into October.

“I’m just trying to stay where I’m at and keep the consistency,” Hendricks said. “Keep my pitches feeling good, keep my command. It’s just staying in my routine and really not doing too much – not doing less – just kind of riding it out until I feel something change.”

How soon before Cubs make Javier Baez an everyday player?

How soon before Cubs make Javier Baez an everyday player?

SAN DIEGO — The airtight defensive alignment for October would have to include Javier Baez, a game-changing force moving in all directions. The Cubs have seen Baez make barehanded plays and laser throws, take charge on bunts and frustrate hitters with an uncanny ability to improvise and make split-second decisions.

Baez and Addison Russell are two of the best athletes in the entire game, Jake Arrieta said after Tuesday night’s win over the San Diego Padres, so put the ball in play and let those two middle infielders take over.

There could be playoff lineups where Baez starts at second base and bumps Ben Zobrist to the outfield. But manager Joe Maddon isn’t about to hand Baez an everyday job, sticking with the super-utility formula and versatile philosophy that’s helped the Cubs become the best team in baseball.

“It depends on how we morph as a group over the next couple years,” Maddon said Wednesday at Petco Park. “Right now, I like the way it’s working out. I like the fact that (Javy’s) getting rested (and) not playing every day. Look at his at-bats — they have gotten better, too. He is making adjustments or adaptations during the at-bat. He’s not just out of control every swing.”

Baez has channeled his aggressiveness, hitting .276 with 13 homers, 47 RBIs and 83 strikeouts through 343 plate appearances, becoming a more mature and well-rounded player at the age of 23.

“You’re seeing a lot of progress,” Maddon said. “Who knows if by playing sporadically this is becoming more part of who he is? As opposed to playing every day, maybe getting caught in the trap of not hitting well, whatever, and all of a sudden he takes it on defense. It’s natural progression. He’s an everyday player, there’s no question, in maybe a couple years.”

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The Geek Department and scouting reports will ultimately influence where Baez plays, because Maddon wants him wherever the ball will most likely be hit most often. When Jon Lester pitches, that can mean Baez starting at third base and Kris Bryant moving to the outfield.

The Cubs promised Zobrist the second-base job when he signed a four-year, $56 million contract, agreeing the focus on one position would help reduce the wear and tear on his body at the age of 35. The Cubs still need Zobrist’s switch-hitting skills and World Series experience in the lineup.

Maddon also wants to keep Jorge Soler involved — because he’s a presence other teams have to account for — and maybe that will mean sacrificing Jason Heyward’s Gold Glove defense in right field at times.

But Baez is the type of defender the Cubs will want to see out there in one-run, low-scoring playoff games.

“He’s unbelievable,” Bryant said. “Any ball hit his way — whether it’s in the air, on the ground, on line — you kind of just expect him to make the play and make it look good. That’s what he’s been doing all year. I certainly think he’s Gold Glove worthy, but he plays all over. I feel like there should be a utility man Gold Glove, because he definitely (deserves it).”