Chicago Cubs

Mooney: Byrd believes he has nothing to hide

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Mooney: Byrd believes he has nothing to hide

Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2011
Posted 10:21 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

MESA, Ariz. Marlon Byrd pulled his Maserati into the parking lot just before 8 a.m. Wednesday, rap music blasting from the speakers. He showed up ready to work, a man with nothing to hide.

The night before, HBOs Real Sports detailed Byrds relationship with Victor Conte, a name synonymous with steroids. Conte once spent four months in a federal prison. He founded Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative and ran the steroid ring that ensnared Barry Bonds on perjury charges.

Youre looking at it the wrong way, the Cubs outfielder said Wednesday at Fitch Park. Youre looking at one piece. Youre looking at Victor Conte, BALCO, steroids. Youre not looking at Victor Conte, the guy that invented ZMA.

Nutritional supplements like ZMA are what led Byrd to call Conte in 2008. Byrd remembers receiving an e-mail in return instructing him to try the SNAC (Scientific Nutrition for Advanced Conditioning) line of products.

Byrd said that it took about a year to gain Contes trust. Byrd recalled that Conte didnt want to get in trouble and repeatedly asked: Are you sure you want to do this?

Without hesitation, Byrd spoke with reporters for almost 15 minutes on Wednesday and patiently explained what he thinks is a natural alliance. He had already sat down for a 90-minute interview with HBO because he believes in the training methods.

Supplements (dont) make you Superman. Steroids make you Superman, Byrd said. (Conte) was the top guy in the supplement game before he started doing the steroids. There was nobody better to go to no one because everyone else I go to would be telling me something I already know.

A 2003 profile of Conte written by the San Francisco Chronicle reporters who produced the best-selling book Game of Shadows indicated that Conte hadnt graduated from college and didnt have a professional health or science background.

Major League Baseball has discouraged Byrd, 33, from using Contes products. HBO didnt expose the connections between Byrd and Conte. Yahoo! Sports reported that in detail in 2009, about five months before the Cubs gave Byrd a three-year, 15 million contract.

All Major League Baseball knew when it came out, because I got hit for about two weeks with interviews, Byrd said. Im sure the Cubs knew. They wouldnt have signed me if they had any worries. Im a guy that has a reputation in this game. Im a supplement guy. The Phillies knew it when I was drafted (in 1999). I look the same way as I came in.

Byrd said he has only been part of random drug testing, and not singled out for more screening. He said that while teammates have asked about what he takes, he does not goes out of his way to recommend them, and gives warnings about Contes perception.

I get tested, Byrd said. Major League Baseball knows they can test guys any time they want. Its random. I dont have any worries. I dont think Major League Baseball has any worries. Victors name is what it is. But at some point everyones going to have to move on.

Conte doesnt flinch at a comparison to being the Saddam Hussein of sports.

Byrd, who stands around 6-foot and packs about 230 pounds onto his frame, is believed to be Contes only client on a major-league roster. Theyve hung out socially. Together they attended a UFC bout this month in Las Vegas, to watch Kyle Kingsbury, another athlete aligned with SNAC.

To be honest, he could teach me how to beat the system if he wanted to, Byrd said. But I would have to ask him, and then he would have to put himself in that situation again. Were not going down that road.

Cubs manager Mike Quade was an Oakland As coach in 2000, when BALCO client Jason Giambi won the American League MVP award. Quade knows Byrd the teams only All-Star in 2010 as someone who never wants to be taken out of the lineup and plays hard all the time.

Marlons a huge part of this club and I expect him to take care of his own business, Quade said. I trust my players and I trust him to do whats right and be ready to perform. And hes done nothing but show me that for the time weve been together.

Byrd is all about routine and teammates frequently praise his work ethic, energy and veteran presence.

He ran through the clubhouse Wednesday morning with sunglasses on and his hat backwards. Early in the afternoon, when most of his teammates were already showered and about to leave the complex, he ran sprints on the green outfield grass under the supervision of two Cubs strength coaches.

It was a beautiful day, framed by a clear blue sky, and Byrd refuses to live in the shadows. He understands that he will never get the benefit of the doubt if one test returns a false positive. He has complete faith in Conte.

Its not in the back of my mind, Byrd said. Im not worried about it. All that stuff is clean. He has Olympic athletes he works with. Victor Contes going to make a mistake? Somebody turned him in. Hes not going to make a mistake with the supplements and thats why I dont have to worry about him. Going to GNC (stores)? I have to worry about (that).

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

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

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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.

That Anthony Rizzo is so hot right now: Cubs' first baseman named NL Player of the Week

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USA TODAY

That Anthony Rizzo is so hot right now: Cubs' first baseman named NL Player of the Week

That Anthony Rizzo is so hot right now.

And Major League Baseball noticed.

Rizzo was announced as the National League Player of the Week on Monday after a terrific performance last week.

The Cubs' first baseman collected 12 hits, drove in 13 runs and slashed a ridiculous .429/.484/.750.

The Cubs had a pretty good week as a team, too, winning five of their seven games against the visiting Cincinnati Reds and Toronto Blue Jays.

They take their three-game winning streak to Ohio to start a three-game set with the Reds on Tuesday.