Zambrano's trying to reinvent himself

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Zambrano's trying to reinvent himself

Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2010
12:49 AM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

The Cubs cant seem to pinpoint exactly what has transformed Carlos Zambrano and they cant know for certain it will last.

There are theories about his mechanics and finding the proper arm slot. Zambrano talks about faith in his secondary pitches and being able to throw them in any count. The media wonders about the impact of those anger-management sessions.

We are left with Zambranos numbers 6-0 with a 1.42 ERA in nine starts since returning to the rotation and even those are skewed by September rosters and the decreased pressure of pitching for a non-contender.

But the Cubs have known Zambrano, whos still only 29, since he was a teenager, and their eyes will be wide open as they assemble their pitching staff for 2011.

Zambrano emerged after a 71-minute rain delay Tuesday night and shut down the San Francisco Giants for six scoreless innings at Wrigley Field. It was a game the Giants needed to stay in first place in the National League West, and they got it 1-0 in front of an announced crowd of 36,364.

Im really impressed with the way hes kind of reinvented himself, Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. There was a time where you didnt think hed be a factor for anybody this year.

Afterward Zambrano was asked to assess this season as a whole and he came up with one word: Bad.

The Cubs pay me to win, Zambrano said. The fans want me to win and I only have nine wins. For me, its a disappointing season, but the most important thing is I have my confidence back.

I will be back next year with the same attitude and with the same passion for the game and ready to do some damage.

Family is why Zambrano says he will finish out his current contract, which will likely run two more years, and then retire. His mother and in-laws are in the process of receiving their visas and passports. He hopes his mother will be able to see him pitch in the majors for the first time next week in Houston.

The day before Zambrano called his nephew in Venezuela, who turned 12 and was recently released from the hospital. The young boy cant walk yet, but he is talking again and has begun his rehabilitation.

What a birthday, said Zambrano, who flew home last month to visit him in intensive care. I (wished) him many, many more birthdays.

There will always be skeptics, but he seems more focused and is starting over in a sense with a different group of teammates and a new manager, whos now 17-8 on the job.

Im a big believer in what Ive seen the last six weeks, Mike Quade said. (Zambranos) been great this entire stretch. So Im more than willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that hes still a guy thats passionate about pitching, (but) maybe is channeling it a little differently.

Im really happy with the guy Ive seen. And I have no reason to doubt that thats the guy Im going to continue to see.

This game pivoted in the eighth inning the frame the Cubs hope Andrew Cashner can one day dominate when Giants rookie catcher Buster Posey drove a 96 mph fastball that ricocheted in and out of the basket in front of the batters eye in center field.

Cashner who was taken 14 spots behind Posey in the first round of the 2008 draft has been growing into the role. Since Quades promotion on Aug. 23, Cashner had been 1-0 with eight holds and a 1.38 ERA in 13 relief appearances.

Thats the best stuff Ive had in awhile, Cashner said. I tried to go away there and the ball ran back in, but its still a good pitch. You just got to tip your cap and go on to the next guy.

The Cubs (68-82) are hoping the experience gained here during moments like that will pay off in 2011. You can believe it when you see it.

If we stay healthy and we start the season the way we finish, Zambrano said, its going to be very interesting next year.

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

For Cubs, winter meetings will be all about the hunt for pitching 

For Cubs, winter meetings will be all about the hunt for pitching 

As the Cubs prepare for the winter meetings outside Washington, D.C., their messaging might as well be: It’s the pitching, stupid.

This is an arms race that will never end, the Cubs trying to defend their first World Series title in 108 years, build out a bullpen that looked pretty thin by November and target the kind of young starter who could help anchor their rotation for years to come, ensuring Wrigleyville remains baseball’s biggest party.

The Cubs signed Brian Duensing to a one-year, $2 million contract on Friday, placing a small bet on a lefty specialist who spent parts of last season on the Triple-A level but made a good enough impression during his 13-plus innings with the Baltimore Orioles.

As executives, scouts, agents and reporters begin to flood into National Harbor on Sunday, the Cubs will intensify their search for pitching, everything from headliners to insurance policies to prospects.

“That’s been the significant bulk of our efforts,” general manager Jed Hoyer said, “It’s definitely not going to be through lack of trying on our part to make that kind of deal. That’s now. That’s at the deadline.”  

The Cubs are preparing for Opening Day 2018, when Jake Arrieta will probably be in a different uniform after signing his megadeal, John Lackey might be kicking back in Texas and enjoying retirement and Jon Lester will be 34 years old with maybe 2,300 innings on his odometer. 

The Cubs have unwavering faith in their pitching infrastructure at the major-league level, from the scouting and analytic perspectives that identified the right sign-and-flip deals during the rebuilding years to the coaching staff that helped mold Kyle Hendricks into a Cy Young Award finalist and a World Series Game 7 starter.

Mike Montgomery notched the final out against the Cleveland Indians and the Cubs see him as their next big project. The lefty checks so many of their boxes, from age (27) to size (6-foot-5) to pedigree (former first-round pick/top prospect) to the change-of-scenery confidence boost/mental reset.

Forget about the White Sox trading Chris Sale to the North Side and don’t just think about obvious names or trade partners. Maybe it’s making a deal for a guy you never heard of before and sifting through the non-tender bin. (As expected, the Cubs offered contracts to arbitration-eligible pitchers Arrieta, Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop and Justin Grimm before Friday’s deadline. Their 40-man roster stands at 35 after non-tendering lefties Gerardo Concepcion and Zac Rosscup, right-hander Conor Mullee and infielder Christian Villanueva.)

Remember how team president Theo Epstein framed the Montgomery trade with the Seattle Mariners this summer – comparing him to All-Star reliever Andrew Miller – and that gives you an idea of how they can address their pitching deficit this winter. 

“If your scouts do a good job of identifying the guys who are trending in the right direction – and you’re willing to take a shot – sometimes there’s a big payoff at the end,” Epstein said.   

While the Cubs did Jason Hammel a favor by cutting him loose and allowing him to explore the market as one of the best pitchers in an extremely weak class of free agents, Montgomery has only 23 big-league starts on his resume. 

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The Cubs had five starters make at least 29 starts this year, while four starters accounted for 30-plus starts in 2015, a remarkable run that led to 200 wins.

“As we’ve talked about so many times,” Hoyer said, “we do have an imbalance in our organization – hitting vs. pitching – and we’re trying to make sure we can accumulate as much pitching depth as possible. 

“We were very healthy this year, which was wonderful and a big part of why we won the World Series. I don’t think you can always count on that kind of health every single year. Building up a reservoir of depth – preferably guys you can option (to the minors) – is something (we’re trying) to accomplish.”  

The Cubs have Jorge Soler stuck in a crowded outfield plus the types of interesting prospects who appear to be blocked – catcher Victor Caratini, third baseman Jeimer Candelario, infielder/outfielder Ian Happ – to make relatively painless trades for pitching (if not the kind of blockbuster deal that dominates coverage of the winter meetings).

Lefty reliever Brett Cecil getting a four-year, $30.5 million deal and no-trade protection from the St. Louis Cardinals became another sign of how shallow this free-agent pool is for starting pitchers and a reflection of a postseason where the bullpen became a major storyline.

The idea of Kenley Jansen intrigues the Cubs – and Aroldis Chapman made a favorable impression during his three-plus months with the team – but Epstein’s front office already made the major upgrades for 2017 by spending nearly $290 million on free agents after the 2015 playoff run. Philosophically, the Cubs also see smarter long-term investments than trying to win a bidding war for a guy who might throw 70 innings a year. 

With that in mind, the Cubs could get creative and have looked at free agent Greg Holland, a two-time All-Star closer with the Kansas City Royals who didn’t pitch this year after having Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.  

Remember that Chapman left the New York Yankees and joined a team that had a 56-1 record when leading entering the ninth inning. If Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop and Carl Edwards Jr. can’t handle the late shifts, then the Cubs could always go out and trade for another closer in the middle of a pennant race.    

The Cubs have the luxuries of time, zero pressure from ownership, their fan base or the Chicago media and a stacked, American League-style lineup. 

“Right now, we could go play from an offensive standpoint and feel very good about our group,” Hoyer said. “We’re going to still continue to look to improve the depth in our bullpen, improve the depth in our starting rotation. Those are things that probably never go away. You probably never stop trying to build that depth.” 

What will LeBron James wear to pay up on Cubs World Series bet with Dwyane Wade?

What will LeBron James wear to pay up on Cubs World Series bet with Dwyane Wade?

LeBron James is coming to town, and he will be all decked out in Cubs gear.

The Cavs are in Chicago to take on the Bulls Friday night at the United Center and it's time for LeBron to pay up on his World Series bet with Dwyane Wade.

The two former teammates made the wager during the World Series as LeBron's hometown Indians took on Wade's hometown Cubs, with the loser wearing the winning baseball team's gear when they showed up in the opposing city. This is LeBron's first trip to Chicago this season.

Wade and LeBron already acknowledged they're having fun with this and have a whole spectacle planned with a national TV audience.

LeBron told the Akron Beacon Journal he's not going to try to take the easy way out and just toss on a Cubs jersey. He is planning socks, hat, pants and possibly more. But he won't wear cleats or bring a glove with him.

[SHOP CUBS: Get your World Series champions gear right here]

When the Cubs won it all a month ago Friday, Wade posted an Instagram photo of LeBron wearing a Cubs uniform:

And ESPN had a cutout of LeBron sporting a No. 23 Cubs road gray jersey outside the United Center Friday morning:

CSN Bulls Insider Vincent Goodwill wonders whether LeBron will don signature Joe Maddon glasses, too.

This is gonna be fun, you guys.