Chicago Cubs

Mooney: The Zen of Carlos Zambrano

Mooney: The Zen of Carlos Zambrano

Tuesday, March 8, 2011Posted: 6:40 PM
By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. Are you a new man? You are asking the wrong question, Carlos Zambrano says.

Has the anger-management counseling helped? Yes, Zambrano says without much hesitation.

Zambrano sees a fundamental difference between those two ideas. Thats how hes framed the maturity issues that have too often sabotaged the Cubs.

Of course, all this is much easier to say on March 8 during the middle of yet another meaningless exhibition game.

But Zambrano pitched well again in Tuesdays 4-0 loss to the Colorado Rockies. Just as important, he virtually ignored the shaky defense behind him at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick.

I have to do my job, Zambrano said. I dont worry about anybody (else). This year I want to concentrate on what I can do. I dont want to worry about left field, center field, whatever. I want to worry about whats going on at the mound.

Zambrano does not want to change his entire personality. Family is central to his life and he has a good sense of humor, recently joking that he was cured and received approval from the psychologist to be alone by himself.

But Zambrano would like to remake his image. He openly acknowledges that he needs to better control the emotions churning inside. Hes got to the point where he felt comfortable exchanging text messages with Carlos Silva after Mondays brutal start.

The two are good friends, but they had pretty much avoided discussing any similarities between their disputes with Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez.

I told (Silva) to relax and just be the same guy that he was in Minnesota, Zambrano said. Dont let anything affect your preparation for the season.

Whoever needs a little bit of support or tips Ill be there for anybody.

Mike Quade will back Zambrano because he needs another front-line starter. The manager owes a lot to Zambranos 8-0 finish to 2010.

Im aware of everything that happened in 19-whatever with this organization, but none of it applies this time, Quade said. Im here every day living in this moment and looking forward and not looking back. (Hes been) fantastic this spring. He was really good for us and for me last year at the end of the season. So theres no reason for me to look anywhere but at that.

Its not unique to Z. When things come up, you deal with it. But I certainly dont sit around going: Are things going to get crazy? When? No, Im just happy when things are smooth. And when theyre not, we deal with them and move on.

Zambrano, who had mentioned that his right arm felt tired after his last start, said that physically hes back to normal. He lasted three innings, scattered five hits and allowed his first run of the spring.

The Cubs werent charged with any errors on Tuesday, but they again showed that defense will be an ongoing issue. Blake DeWitt had trouble handling two balls at second. Scott Moore had to make two nifty plays at first off wild throws. One ball bounced in front of a charging Tyler Colvin in left.

It wont matter as much when Zambrano throws like this: Carlos Gonzalez got so tangled up on one check swing that he struck out and fell into the dirt, flat on his stomach.

The Rockies slugger hit 34 homers and drove in 117 runs last season, and Zambrano correctly quoted his average (.336) off the top of his head.

We cant give up to big hitters, Zambrano said. I have my best stuff for them.

At the end of the third inning, Zambrano walked off the mound and past Quade, who was sitting on a cooler. They locked hands. Their high-five turned into a kind of extended handshake. At that moment it all looked good in the Cubs dugout.

Changed man? Zambrano said afterward, repeating the question. No, Im the same.

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

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Does Joe Maddon deserve criticism for his late-game decisions?

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SportsTalk Live Podcast: Does Joe Maddon deserve criticism for his late-game decisions?

Adam Jahns (Chicago Sun-Times), Danny Parkins (670 The Score) and Ben Finfer (ESPN 1000) join Kap on the panel.  The Cubs manage just a single run after scoring 15 the night before.  Does Joe Maddon deserve criticism for his late-game decisions? 

Everybody is fired up about Mitch Trubisky except for Mitch Trubisky. When will the hype become reality and he gets the starting nod?

Plus Dwyane Wade is reportedly set to accept a buyout and Jerry Reinsdorf wouldn’t hire Ozzie Guillen to be his manager ever again.

Listen to the full epidsode here

Kyle Schwarber is learning to trust himself again at the plate

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USA TODAY

Kyle Schwarber is learning to trust himself again at the plate

Baseball people talk all the time about how humbling the game is and how important confidence is.

After all, 90 percent of the game is half mental, right?

While Carl Edwards Jr. gets his confidence back on the mound, Kyle Schwarber is trying to get back into a groove in the batter's box.

Schwarber struck out in eight straight trips to the plate starting Saturday in Arizona and ending Monday night at Wrigley Field. But since then, he's reached base safely in five straight plate appearances and has swung and missed only once in that time.

One of those at-bats was a clutch single to lead off the ninth inning Tuesday night off Reds closer Raisel Iglesias. Schwarber took a pair of strikes (one of which was beneath the strike zone) but then fouled off three pitches before singling into right field on the ninth pitch of the matchup.

"Really good at-bat," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "He was choking up pretty fiercly right there. Much shorter approach to the ball. He looked really good. ... Good for him."

The Cubs' ninth-inning rally fell short, but Schwarber scored his team's only run of the game and got to head home with some validation for all the work he's been putting in.

"In that spot, you have to shorten up and either force a walk or put the ball in play," Schwarber said. "You don't want to strike out there to lead off the inning when you're down by two. If you get on base, someone can put the ball out of the ballpark.

"I'm just trying to simplify things down, especially when it gets to two strikes."

One of the main things Schwarber has been focusing in is not expanding the strike zone, which he hasn't done since that eighth strikeout in a row. Sure, it's a small sample size, but a slumping hitter has to start somewhere and the young slugger now has results he can point to.

Schwarber has seen 31 pitches over those five trips to the plate, walking once, getting hit by a pitch twice and lining two singles through the shift on the right side of the infield.

Don't look now, but his average is nearing .200 (.196) while he's posted a .256/.356/.556 (.911 OPS) slash line in 31 games since being recalled from Triple-A Iowa on July 6.

He does have 39 strikeouts in that span, but he also has drawn 12 walks and clubbed 12 extra-base hits, including seven homers.

"It's just fine-tuning," he said. "Just trusting yourself, trusting that you're gonna lay off a pitch in the dirt."

This is the guy who didn't see a live pitch in more than six months last year and then returned on the biggest stage to mash and work tough at-bats against the likes of Corey Kluber and Andrew Miller.

Yet somehow this same dude has lost his confidence and his mojo and has been searching for it almost all year. 

He's trying not to let the bad times build up, attempting to leave poor results in the past.

"You just gotta go at-bat by at-bat," Schwarber said. "You think about that at-bat the next inning, but whenever that inning's over, it's a whole new ballgame, a whole new at-bat."

Strikeouts are gonna happen. That's always been a part of Schwarber's game, but it's also a part of today's game.

Whiffs are up all across the league. Aaron Judge has struck out the second-most times in baseball and has whiffed in 32 straight games, but he's also leading the AL in homers, walks, runs, slugging percentage, OPS and is a legitimate MVP candidate.

Guys like Joey Votto and Anthony Rizzo — who choke up with two strikes consistently and actually walk more than they whiff — are a dying breed.

Strikeouts are viewed differently nowadays. The Tampa Bay Rays have told their players to specifically not shorten up with two strikes this season, looking to take big hacks in every count.

Schwarber can't strike out in eight straight appearances each week, of course, but he can still be a very effective hitter in this Cubs lineup even if he doesn't morph into the next coming of Tony Gwynn.

"Javy [Baez] struck out five times in one game and he's done pretty well since then," Maddon said. "We have a lot of faith in Schwarbs."