Mooney: Zambrano stays out of Silva's business

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Mooney: Zambrano stays out of Silva's business

Thursday, March 3, 2011
Posted: 7:33 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

MESA, Ariz. In Venezuela Carlos Zambrano once played winter ball with Carlos Silva. Theyve grown close over the years and are represented by the same agent. But in this case Zambrano wants to stay out of Silvas business.

Everyone else linked Zambrano with Silva, but from a Cubs perspective all meltdowns are not created equal. At first Zambrano pretended to know nothing about Silvas dugout confrontation with Aramis Ramirez the day before.

What happened? Zambrano said Thursday when asked if he has sympathy for his friend. Yeah, what about it? I cant comment on that. I wasnt there, so next question.

When another reporter pointed out that manager Mike Quade had called a team meeting hours earlier to address it, Zambrano cut him off.

Next question, Zambrano said. Lets talk about today.

Zambrano submitted three scoreless innings during Thursdays 8-7 loss to the Texas Rangers in front of 6,229 fans at HoHoKam Park.

Afterward he mentioned feeling some fatigue with his right arm, but said thats normal in spring training, that its not a concern. Quade echoed those thoughts.

And Silva will be given the opportunity to rejoin Zambrano in the rotation.

While Im not interested in having donnybrooks in the dugout, Quade said, I do like the fact that some people were pissed off. But now lets see if we cant take some of that in the right direction."

During his first speech to the entire team last month, Quade told his players that they should look reporters in the eye and be accountable with the media. Silva refused to comment about the incident on Wednesday and was wheeled out of Maryvale Baseball Park on a golf cart.

On Thursday morning, Silva declined to speak with a group of reporters by his locker, saying hell talk about it later. After the team meeting, he walked out onto the field at HoHoKam Park with a bat and glove in his hands and went through his workout.

Silva was not available when the clubhouse opened back up to the media before the game. A fire alarm went off throughout the entire stadium during that access period. Several players smiled and laughed but no one budged.

The Cubs media-relations department has repeatedly encouraged Silva to tell his side of the story. Quade said Thursday that its up to Silva to figure out how he wants to publicly handle the situation. In the silence, others are left to guess Silvas motivations, and play psychologist.

You got to ask him that, but hes fighting for a spot right now, Ramirez said. It matters for him. It might not matter for somebody like (Matt) Garza or (Ryan) Dempster. They got their spots secured, but he has to good to be in the rotation and obviously he didnt do it (that day).

No one saw it coming, because the Seattle Mariners were just as anxious to get rid of Silva as the Cubs were to unload Milton Bradley. But Silva might have been the citys most effective pitcher last year through interleague play against the White Sox.

On June 26 the day after Zambrano provoked a similar confrontation in the dugout with Derrek Lee the Cubs had a team meeting and Silva pitched well in a tough-luck 3-2 loss at U.S. Cellular Field.

Afterward with his personal record at 8-2 with a 3.01 ERA he said he thought he saw a team coming together.

As a pitcher, we make a lot of mistakes, Silva said that night. When were there on the mound, we become a different person. Sometimes we say stuff that we dont even want to say, but (Zambrano) said it.

I dont know, man, Carlos is a very good friend of mine, but this is my team, too. If Im going to have success and have a good year, I need my team. I need to give the support to my team.

The injuries accumulated from that point. Silva would win only two more games, and none after July 26. He was rushed in an ambulance to a Denver hospital to monitor an abnormally high heart rate, and essentially shut down with elbow tendinitis.

That was around the time when Zambrano came off the restricted list and started pitching like a Cy Young candidate again. Last year two friends were on two different trajectories.

In one sense, Zambrano wants to keep it that way. He wasnt baited by a question about the defenders behind him.

I worry about what I have to do to be ready, Zambrano said. I dont worry about what the offense or the defense needs to do. I leave that to Quade and the coaching staff to teach (everyone) what they need to do to be ready for the season. So its not my concern.

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

Theories on why Cubs haven’t played up to their defensive potential yet

Theories on why Cubs haven’t played up to their defensive potential yet

“That’s what we’re supposed to look like,” Joe Maddon said Monday night after a 6-4 loss where the San Francisco Giants scored the first six runs and Wrigley Field got loudest for the David Ross “Dancing with the Stars” look-in on the big video board, at least until a late flurry from the Cubs.

But for a manager always looking for the silver linings, Maddon could replay Addison Russell’s diving stop to his right and strong throw from deep in the hole at shortstop to take a hit away from Christian Arroyo. Or Albert Almora’s spectacular flying catch near the warning track in center field. Or Anthony Rizzo stealing another hit from Brandon Belt with a diving backhanded play near the first-base line.

The highlight reel became a reminder of how the Cubs won 103 games and the World Series last year – and made you wonder why the 2017 team hasn’t played the same consistently excellent defense with largely the same group of personnel.

“Concentration?” Jason Heyward said, quickly dismissing the theory a defensive decline could boil down to focus or effort. “No shot. No shot. It is what it is when it comes to people asking questions about last year having effects, this and that. But this is a new season.

“The standard is still high. What’s our excuse? We played later than anybody? That may buy you some time, but then what?

“The goals stay the same. We just got to find new ways to do it when you have a different team.”

FiveThirtyEight.com, Nate Silver’s statistical website, framed the question this way after the Cubs allowed the lowest batting average on balls in play ever last season, an analysis that goes all the way back to 1871: “Have the Cubs Forgotten How to Field?”

Even if the Cubs don’t set records and make history, they should still be better than 23rd in the majors in defensive efficiency, with 37 errors through 43 games. The Cubs have already allowed 28 unearned runs after giving up 45 all last season.

“We just got to stay on it and keep focusing and not let the miscues go to our head,” Ben Zobrist said. “We just have to keep working hard and staying focused in the field. A lot of that’s the rhythm of the game. I blame a lot of that on the early parts of the season and the weather and a lot of difficult things that we’ve been going through.

“If we’re not hitting the ball well, too, we’re a young team still, and you can carry that into the field. You don’t want to let that happen, but it’s part of the game. You got to learn to move beyond miscues and just focus on the next play.”

Heyward, a four-time Gold Glove winner, missed two weeks with a sprained right finger and has already started nine times in center field (after doing that 21 times all last season). Zobrist has morphed back into a super-utility guy, starting 16 games at second base and 15 in two different outfield spots.

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Maddon has tried to drill the idea of making the routine play into Javier Baez’s head, so that the uber-talented second baseman can allow his natural athleticism and instincts to take over during those dazzling moments.

The Cubs are basically hoping Kyle Schwarber keeps the ball in front of him in left and setting the bar at: Don’t crash into your center fielder. Like Schwarber and Almora, catcher Willson Contreras hasn’t played a full season in The Show yet, and the Cubs are now hoping rookie Ian Happ can become a Zobrist-type defender all over the field.

“I’m seeing our guys playing in a lot of different places,” Heyward said. “It’s not just been penciling in every day who’s going to center field or right field or left field. We did shake things up some last year, but we did it kind of later in the season. We had guys settle in, playing every day. This year, I feel like we’re having guys in different spots.

“It’s May whatever, (but) it seems like we haven’t really had a chance to settle in yet. Not that we’re procrastinating by any means, but it’s just been a lot of moving pieces.”

The Giants won World Series titles in 2010, 2012 and 2014 with a formula that incorporated lights-out pitching, airtight defense and just enough clutch hitting. The Cubs are now a 22-21 team trying to figure it out again.

“Defense comes and goes, just like pitching,” said Kris Bryant, the reigning National League MVP, in part, because of his defensive versatility. “I feel like if you look at last year, it’s kind of hard to compare, just because it was so good. We spoiled everybody last year. Now we’re a complete letdown this year.”

Bryant paused and said: “Just kidding. Different years, things regress, things progress, and that’s just how it goes sometimes.”

For Joe Maddon, Cubs winning World Series came down to Giant comeback in SF and avoiding Johnny Cueto in elimination game

For Joe Maddon, Cubs winning World Series came down to Giant comeback in SF and avoiding Johnny Cueto in elimination game

Jon Lester vs. Johnny Cueto at Wrigley Field – the playoff matchup the Cubs dreaded in an elimination game – will happen more than seven months later under far different circumstances.

The Cubs have a 2016 championship banner flying next to the iconic center-field scoreboard – the ultimate response to any questions about their slow start to this season. The San Francisco Giants can’t have Madison Bumgarner saunter out of the bullpen when he’s recovering from a dirt-bike accident, another reason why an odd-year team is much closer to last place than first in an improved National League West.

The Giants don’t have the same aura, because the Cubs staged an epic comeback to end a best-of-five division series last October, scoring four runs again five different relievers in the ninth inning at AT&T Park.

“I’m telling you, man, Game 4 pretty much won the World Series,” Joe Maddon said. “I did not want to see Mr. Cueto pitching back here again. I’ll get to see him (Tuesday night), but that’s OK, compared to whatever that day would’ve been.”

Maddon has admitted this already, but it is still telling from a manager who always tries to stay in the moment and ignore the negativity. It says something about a Giant franchise that had won 10 straight postseason elimination games and World Series titles in 2010, 2012 and 2014 – and a fan base that used to expect things to go wrong in Wrigleyville after more than a century of losing.

“That whole Game 4 in San Francisco, I did focus on that a lot,” Maddon said. “Just trying to understand Game 5 back at home – how this is going to play out – and do whatever we possibly can to win that game there that night in San Francisco.

“That was the game for me – out of the entire postseason. To have to play the Giants where they were battle-tested – Game 5, back here with (Cueto) pitching – I did not like that at all. I thought that pretty much the postseason hinged on that one game in San Francisco.”

Even though the Cubs still had to survive a 21-inning scoreless streak against the Los Angeles Dodgers before winning their first NL pennant in 71 years. And come back from a 3-1 deficit in the World Series and beat the Cleveland Indians on the road in a 10-inning Game 7 for the ages.

[RELATED: Cubs can't complete another miracle comeback against Giants bullpen]

“That’s what good teams do,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “They’re a very talented club, very solid all around. You don’t win the World Series unless you are.

“Look back at our success, how many times were we looking at elimination? No, you’re never surprised in the postseason. Anything those teams do, it’s because they’re there for a reason. They’re very good.”

Lester beat Cueto in a 1-0 instant classic when Javier Baez lifted a 3-2 quick pitch into the basket beneath the video ribbon in the left-field bleachers. Cueto kept the Cubs so off-balance in Game 1 that Baez actually walked up to home plate in the eighth inning thinking bunt.

The Giants reacted to that Game 4 meltdown by giving All-Star closer Mark Melancon a four-year, $62 million contract at the winter meetings, trying to fix a bullpen that led the majors with 30 blown saves last season.

“It was close,” Bochy said. “Three outs from taking it to Game 5 with a pretty good pitcher going. We can speculate all we want. There’s no point in that. It didn’t happen.

“But, sure, you look back. That’s how tight that series was. Unfortunately, we couldn’t hold on. Give them credit – great job coming back. We’re a team that plays very well under pressure, and we did there. Just couldn’t hold on to that ninth inning.”