So far, so good for Zambrano and Quade

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So far, so good for Zambrano and Quade

Friday, March 18, 2011Posted: 8:05 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

MESA, Ariz. Carlos Zambrano walked back to the mound ahead of Mike Quade. It looked like he pretended to not notice his manager. They had an animated discussion as the infielders gathered around.

There were two outs in the fifth inning and Zambrano had already given up homers to Scott Rolen and Joey Votto. Quade had seen enough. The 13,182 fans at HoHoKam Park on Friday didnt witness a meltdown.

I was just playing with him, Zambrano said. I just told him: What if I dont want to leave? Hes like: Then were going to fight here. (He) told me: Get out of here.

Zambrano went on to say that while the Cubs work hard, its also about having fun. And a 14-13 loss to the Cincinnati Reds didnt change his mood during what has been a very strong spring.

Zambrano who gave up six runs in 4.2 innings likes playing for Quade. Thats not insignificant as the Cubs try to relocate the pitcher who finished last season by going 8-0 with a 1.41 ERA in his last 11 starts. It might take all of Quades excellent communication skills.

Hes a great guy, Zambrano said. Hes always in a good mood. Ive known him for the last seven, eight years and hes straight (with you). Whatever he thinks, he comes to you or he calls you to his office and he says whatever he (needs to) in a good way. (Its all) how you say it.

People that show respect (get) respect. Thats why we get along.

Zambrano has been nursing a sore left wrist after getting jammed on a swing during batting practice. He listed himself as doubtful to compete in Mondays softball home run derby to benefit his foundation.

Ozzie Guillen who went to dinner with Zambrano hours after he had to be separated from Derrek Lee and was sent home from U.S. Cellular Field last year is among those scheduled to participate in the charity event. This exchange showed that Zambrano already has another manager he can relate to.

Its all good, Quade said. For him to be in that frame of mind even in a spring training game (is) a good thing.

A national reporter asked Zambrano if he was indeed having more fun this spring.

The answer to that question summed up an organization with its fingers crossed. The Cubs hope that the anger-management counseling had made a difference, and that their 91.5 million man again performs at a high level.

So far, so good, Zambrano said.

The Silva Watch

Its unclear what the Cubs are going to do with Carlos Silva, who is owed 13.5 million and now has a 15.88 ERA this spring. Its getting more and more difficult to see him in the rotation, given how well Randy Wells has pitched, and how high the organization is on Andrew Cashner.

Silva labored through three innings on Friday and his defense did him no favors by committing two more errors. But in total he allowed eight runs five earned on 11 hits. Publicly, the Cubs are committed to looking at him as a starter.

Quade gave Silva another vote of confidence and said the idea of moving him to the bullpen (isnt) even worth addressing right now. The Cubs wont be rushed into a decision in case of injuries and perhaps another team could become desperate for pitching by months end.

(Maybe) Silva comes out next time and dazzles like he did last year, Quade said. You just dont know. Im not going to sit here and speculate whats going to happen. Im sure hes disappointed in his outing, but hes been down this road before.

Ojeda vs. Barney

Back spasms continue to sideline Augie Ojeda, who hasnt appeared in a game since March 11 and was supposed to be in the mix as a utility infielderbackup shortstop.

Darwin Barney is hitting .382 this spring and appears to be on the verge of winning that job on his own merits. But the 36-year-old Ojeda who once played for Quade at Triple-A Iowa so far hasnt been able to live up to his excellent defensive reputation.

Im concerned about Augie, Quade said. This has been a little longer than we thought, so Im hoping that he can get healthy and this doesnt morph into something that lasts for weeks and weeks. Hes a valuable guy, whether he goes with us (to Chicago or not). Its getting late in camp and I dont think hes real close yet.

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

This is the identity of the 2017 Cubs so far: 'Up and down, up and down'

This is the identity of the 2017 Cubs so far: 'Up and down, up and down'

MIAMI – The Cubs are the defending champs, but at the moment they really don’t have much of an identity beyond that, unsure what they can count on from one game to the next, waiting to get healthy and still searching for that sense of rhythm 45 percent into the season.

This is a 37-36 team dealing with injuries near the top of the rotation (Kyle Hendricks), the middle of the lineup (Ben Zobrist) and the heart of the defense (Jason Heyward) while a World Series legend (Kyle Schwarber) gets a few days to clear his head before reporting to Triple-A Iowa.

Just when it looks like the rotation is gathering strength, the offense went missing again during Friday’s 2-0 loss at Marlins Park, the night after the Cubs scored 11 runs in Miami and talked about it as the type of game that can create momentum.

“The difference 24 hours can make,” manager Joe Maddon said.

But this has been building for almost three full months. The Cubs have been shut out six times already and at the .500 mark at 15 different points this season.

The good news: John Lackey hit 94 mph and has put together back-to-back quality starts for a starting five with a 2.35 ERA the last two turns through the rotation. The 10 games before that, the Cubs rotation put up a 5.65 ERA, but neither trend has really changed the overall picture in a weak National League Central. 

“That’s where it all starts, for sure,” Lackey said. “If you’re going to be a consistent winning team, you got to have good starting pitching, because the offense can kind of come and go.

“You got to remember they’re pretty young. We got a lot of guys still learning, still making adjustments in the game. But the talent’s there, so you like our chances in the end for those guys to do good stuff.”  

The bad news: Lackey had no margin for error as the Marlins needed only three hits to score two runs (one earned). Lackey gave up his 21st home run – he allowed 23 in almost 190 innings last year – in the third inning when Giancarlo Stanton launched an 83-mph pitch 458 feet beyond the garish pink-flamingos-and-palm-trees sculpture.   

Defense was supposed to be the constant with this team, but the Marlins manufactured an insurance run in the sixth inning when Dee Gordon stole second base off Lackey and catcher Miguel Montero threw the ball away, setting up Christian Yelich’s sacrifice fly.   

“I certainly have all the confidence in the world in everybody here,” reigning NL MVP Kris Bryant said. “Last year was a great year for us. Everybody just seemed to be hitting at the right time, pitching good at the right time. Everything clicked.

“This season hasn’t been that way. You look at many players – and many Hall of Fame players – they’ve had some down years here and there. It just kind of seems like as a group we’re a little down right now, but plenty of time to turn it around.”

Ian Happ and Javier Baez accounted for four of the six hits against right-hander Jose Urena and three different relievers as the Cubs hit into three double plays, struck out seven times and followed the same pattern.  

“Our offense is just like you saw – up and down, up and down,” Maddon said. “It is youthful. Listen, I don’t want to keep saying that, but it’s true. It just is. These guys need more at-bats to figure out what to not swing at and how to battle.”

Joe Maddon on Ian Happ: ‘Pound for pound, man, he’s got as good a power as I’ve seen’

Joe Maddon on Ian Happ: ‘Pound for pound, man, he’s got as good a power as I’ve seen’

MIAMI – The Cubs factored Ian Happ into their preseason plans, hoping he could give the team a shot of adrenaline at some point and play well enough to be marketed as a trade chip in a blockbuster deal for pitching.

But the Cubs couldn’t have projected this for late June: Happ batting third behind Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant, the switch-hitting presence and middle-of-the-order force needed with Ben Zobrist on the disabled list and Kyle Schwarber about to get a mental reset at Triple-A Iowa.

“Pound for pound, man, he’s got as good a power as I’ve seen, when you look at the size and how far the ball goes,” manager Joe Maddon said Friday at Marlins Park. “It’s a unique combination of size and strength. You normally see a bigger guy with that kind of juice."

Happ (6-foot, 205 pounds) also patrolled right field that night – one of four different positions the rookie has handled so far – with Gold Glove defender Jason Heyward also on the disabled list and the Cubs in scramble mode.

The Schwarber demotion is a reminder of how hard this game is, how quickly it can spin out of control and how small sample sizes can be misleading, even on the biggest stages against some of the best pitchers on the planet.

But check out Happ’s first six weeks in The Show projected as a 162-game average on Baseball-Reference.com: 46 homers, 97 RBI, .916 OPS and 199 strikeouts.

“He’s just really interesting,” Maddon said. “Now you’re seeing him hit better from the right side, too, which is really going to matter. That really makes him a threat. You put him in the lineup based on that.”

The shorthanded Cubs have needed Happ – at the age of 22 – to protect Bryzzo Souvenir Co., add another layer of Zobrist versatility and learn it all on the fly for a team with World Series expectations.

“He’s pretty self-confident,” Maddon said. “There’s times I can tell when it’s beating him up a little bit when he goes through some of those funks where maybe he’s chasing pitches out of the zone. But he seems to rebound very quickly. Strong-minded. Strong-willed. Very confident individual.”

[MORE CUBS: Cubs hopeful Kyle Hendricks returns before All-Star break]

Two weeks into Happ’s big-league career, Maddon got questions about how long the Cubs will be patient and what they would need to see out of him before thinking about a return trip to Des Moines.

Though Happ was hitting .207 as recently as last week, his average has jumped roughly 40 points. He’s homered eight times in his last 14 starts. Fifteen of his 21 RBI have come with two outs. His OPS hasn’t fallen below .741 at any point this season.

“That’s adjusting,” Maddon said. “You get here, nobody really knows you, they throw you pitches, you hit ‘em well. And all of a sudden, you stop seeing those pitches. You’re not going to see them again until you stop swinging at the stuff that they want you to swing at.

“He’s done a pretty good job of laying off the bad stuff. That’s why it’s coming back to him. He’s really reorganized the strike zone here.”

That whole process sped up on Schwarber, who lost the swagger and the ability to crush fastballs that made him such a dangerous hitter. Happ doesn’t have it all figured out, but by the look on his face and the sound of his voice, you would have no idea whether or not he’s hitting. 

“Unbelievable guy,” said Happ, who’s tight with Schwarber. “He’ll go down, rake, be back soon and do what he’s capable of doing, which is hitting the ball hard all over the ballpark. He’s done it his whole life. And he’ll continue to do it.”