Cubs-Sox wont have the same buzz without Ozzie and Big Z

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Cubs-Sox wont have the same buzz without Ozzie and Big Z

GLENDALE, Ariz. Dont expect to hear Robin Ventura barking to the media about the (bleeping) rats at Wrigley Field.

I dont think hell be kicking facemasks or anything either, Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija said.

Ozzie Guillen did that to Geovany Sotos catching gear last summer on the South Side, after arguing a call at home plate and getting thrown out of the game. There almost always seems to be fireworks whenever the Cubs play the White Sox.

That night, Carlos Zambrano walked into the interview room at U.S. Cellular Field and asked reporters if they had seen the one where Rocky fought in Russia. Zambrano decided that Rocky Balboa said it best: Its not too late for people to change.

Less than two months later, Zambrano cleared out his locker during the middle of a game at Turner Field and headed to the team hotel in downtown Atlanta. He told team personnel that he was thinking about retirement and sent text messages saying that he felt like he was stealing money.

As soon as Guillen jumped to become the Miami Marlins manager, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that Zambrano would take his talents to South Beach, creating a dream team for the media.

As much as Guillen appeared to need a new challenge, and Zambrano couldnt walk back into the Cubs clubhouse, it still leaves a void. Its hard to imagine the Cubs-Sox rivalry will have the same juice.

I was an Ozzie fan growing up my whole life, said Samardzija, whos from Indiana. I enjoyed watching Ozzie play. I like how he manages. Yeah, it will definitely be a little different. Obviously, I think the rivalry will still be where its always been, but he always seemed to be a big part of it.

In front of 10,327 fans the announced crowd at least the Cubs beat the White Sox 5-1 on Friday at Camelback Ranch. The pivot point came in the third inning, when Randy Wells inherited a bases-loaded jam from Travis Wood.

Auditioning for a spot in the rotation, Wells threw Paul Konerko a sinker that induced an inning-ending double play, preserving a two-run lead.

Its quieter, Wells said of the difference without Guillen around. The Cubs-Sox rivalry is going to be as good as it always is. Its just one of those games you dont want to lose to your crosstown rival. I dont think spring trainings got quite the hype, but were definitely gearing up for those guys.

Cubs infielder Adrian Cardenas played at Monsignor Pace High School just before Guillens youngest son Ozney did and knows the family. When Cardenas would go home and work out in Miami, Guillen would watch batting practice and talk to the 16-year-old kids who dream of the big leagues.

The Ozzie you see in high definition on TV every night, Cardenas said, is the exact same Ozzie youll find on a high school baseball field in February.

Hes just real all the time, and you either like it or you dont, Cardenas said. Thats it. You have to learn to accept it or have a problem with it. But one things for sure is he loves the game.

Ventura will project calm in the roughly 400 times he will have to meet the press this season. New Cubs manager Dale Sveum who briefly played with Ventura on the South Side in 1992 looks past the coaching inexperience and sees a natural leader.

Hes got an incredible personality, but you wouldnt know it. Hes quick and very sarcastic, Sveum said. Hes definitely the right guy for the job. (Hes) capable of just stepping right in and doing things. He knows the game as well as anybody (and) hes the kind of guy who people will follow.

Ventura wont be filming Pepsi commercials with say, Matt Garza, in Venezuela, the way Guillen and Zambrano once did.

And Cubs officials were furious when they found out Zambrano went to dinner with Guillen hours after jumping Derrek Lee in the dugout and being sent home from U.S. Cellular Field (and eventually into anger-management therapy).

When Theo Epstein took over at Clark and Addison, the president publicly allowed for the possibility of Zambrano earning his way back onto the team. But in polling players privately, the response was overwhelming: Big Z had to go.

Zambrano isnt necessarily a bad guy. Hes deeply committed to his faith and his family and can show a terrific sense of humor. His emotions, Kerry Wood once observed, are a double-edged sword that can lead him pitch at an extremely high level or completely lose control.

Guillen pushed for this trade, predicting that Zambrano can still be a 15-game winner. Their friendship plus the roughly 15 million the Cubs kicked in closed the deal.

His baseball talent is still there, utility man Jeff Baker said. If Ozzie can get him going, who knows what can happen?

The Cubs and White Sox have enjoyed distraction-free camps, but their rivalry wont be the same. The Marlins become a Showtime reality series with Ozzie and Big Z.

If its going to work anywhere, Samardzija said, it should work there.

David Robertson, Nate Jones return to White Sox after WBC victory

David Robertson, Nate Jones return to White Sox after WBC victory

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Having experienced a playoff-like atmosphere at the World Baseball Classic, David Robertson and Nate Jones already feel prepared for the regular season. 

The two relievers returned to White Sox camp on Friday morning bearing gold medals from a Team USA WBC title run that concluded on Wednesday night with an 8-0 victory over Puerto Rico at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. Robertson, who recorded the final three outs of the clinching victory, said he's glad to be back and won't need much of a tune-up to be ready for the April 3 season opener.

"Back up to speed?" Robertson said. "More like slow down and get ready for the season. I'll probably play catch (Friday). I didn't throw (Thursday), I spent the day traveling. Probably play catch today, and be ready to throw (Saturday). If I needed to throw today, I could. I feel like I'm season ready right now."

"It feels good to be back. It's been a long trip doing this WBC, so it's good to be back and relax a little bit. Have a couple days before we start the season."

Both Jones and Robertson appeared four times each for Team USA with similar results. Each allowed a solo home run but nothing else. Jones said he brought his gold medal back to camp because he isn't yet ready to put it in his safety deposit box. His favorite moments of the tournament were brought on by raucous crowds.

"Once you get a crowd chanting USA that was a pretty cool moment," Jones said. "You're proud of representing your country, and once they did that, it all kind of set in, like, ‘Wow, this is happening.'

"It's just pure excitement, everybody going crazy."

Jones and Robertson said they're pleased to have returned to the relative tranquility of White Sox camp after they lived out of a suitcase for the previous 18 days. Both were set to meet with pitching coach Don Cooper and manager Rick Renteria to discuss their upcoming schedule. Jones said he expected to throw a side session on Friday in front of Cooper to have his mechanics reviewed. Robertson last pitched on Wednesday and didn't know when he'd throw again.

"They've been busy, obviously, with Robbie finishing up the last game," Renteria said. "We'll see how the schedule lines up in terms of their usage for the remaining 9-10 days."

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Robertson is pretty sure he won't need much work. Whereas the team's closer normally waits until the first week of March to appear in a game, Robertson has pitched in plenty this spring. Each of the last four has had a ton more intensity than any normal Cactus League work.

"It felt like playoff baseball really early in the year," Robertson said. "Just coming from Miami, trying to win a couple days in there was really hard. Fans were really loud. That place was a very intense environment, and it didn't feel like you were the home team at all.

"It felt like (a home game) when we were in San Diego We were the home team there, and when we got to L.A., same thing. Although, I will say that when we were playing the Japanese, it erupted a couple times when they had some big moments in their game. It was just a lot of fun to play in this whole event. It was definitely more than I expected."

Jose Quintana gets the Opening Day start for White Sox

Jose Quintana gets the Opening Day start for White Sox

 

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Jose Quintana has been named the Opening Day starter — for the White Sox.

While many are surprised he still hasn't been traded, few should be shocked by the news manager Rick Renteria delivered on Friday, when he announced Quintana would pitch the April 3 opener.

With Chris Sale gone to Boston, Quintana, a first-time All-Star in 2016, has been the odds-on favorite to take over as the team's ace. The only question seemed to be whether or not he'd still be in a White Sox uniform when the season began. But the club made it clear Friday that Quintana is their guy and he'll face the Detroit Tigers in the first game of 2017. The only one who seemed a little taken aback about the news is Quintana.

"I was surprised," Quintana said. "I knew I may get the ball for that day, but they didn't say nothing, so you didn't know. I just kept going and doing my workouts and all my stuff. I'm really, really happy with this opportunity. It's huge for me. I can't wait for that day to come.

"I'm excited to have this opportunity. It's a huge honor for me to have the ball for Opening Day the first time in my life. And I think it's a once-in-a-life opportunity."

Asked about the announcement earlier in the week, Renteria said he needed more time. Many speculated that it meant the White Sox were continuing to listen to offers for Quintana, who has drawn constant interest since the team began its rebuild in December.

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Quintana, who went 13-12 with a 3.20 ERA and 181 strikeouts in 208 innings last season, has looked fantastic all spring. Pitching in front of more than a dozen scouts on Thursday, Quintana made his first Cactus League appearance in a month and allowed two hits over seven scoreless innings. The left-hander also put on a brilliant performance for Colombia in the World Baseball Classic on March 10 as he retired the first 17 Team USA hitters he faced before allowing a hit.

"He's very happy about it," Renteria said. "He has obviously earned it.

"I don't know if he was surprised as much as he was elated and proud to be given the opportunity to be the Opening Day starter. It's a privilege."

Quintana's resume of consistency made him a clear-cut choice for the nod. He heads into 2017 having pitched at least 200 innings in each of the past four seasons. In that span, he's produced a 3.32 ERA and 18.1 Wins Above Replacement, according to fangraphs.com. That figure represents the seventh-highest WAR total among all big league pitchers in that span.

Even though he's viewed as the staff ace, Quintana — who potentially has four years and $36.85 million left on his current contract — said he was surprised by the news because the club hadn't yet informed him of the honor.

"It means a lot for me, especially after last year when you make the All-Star team and this year the opportunity to play in the WBC and now you have the opportunity to pitch on Opening Day," Quintana said. "That's a lot of things happening for me now and I'm happy. And really blessed. You just try to do all my things every time.

"Maybe they don't know what it means for me, but it's a big thing."