Zambrano stays in the picture, Cubs crush Pirates

Zambrano stays in the picture, Cubs crush Pirates
August 31, 2010, 3:23 am
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Monday, Aug. 30, 2010
11:55 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

The Cubs gathered in the outfield on Monday afternoon at Wrigley Field to take a team photo that will ultimately be remembered for who is missing. But there was Carlos Zambrano standing in the top row, fourth in from the left.

Mike Quade sat front and center, where Lou Piniella would have been if his mother hadnt developed health problems, and if the Cubs had performed more like a team with a payroll around 145 million.

In a summer shaped by dramatic and sudden changes, Zambrano enjoys the leverage of the no-trade clause contained in his 91.5 million contract. Even without that provision, he is still owed almost 36 million across the next two seasons in a soft economy.

Zambrano has spent time on the restricted list and in the bullpen, but he is beginning to pitch like the front-line starter hes supposed to be. The trend line continued with Monday nights 14-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates in front of 29,538 fans at Wrigley Field.

Zambrano left the team for three days last week to visit his ailing nephew in Venezuela. The 11-year-old is still in a coma, but the expectation is that within the next few days he will no longer need a machine to breathe.

Its a miracle in our family, Zambrano said. Hes not out of intensive care yet. But hes still much better compared to four or five days ago, when he was diagnosed with a high-percentage chance of (not) getting out of (it) alive.

Zambrano tried to push those thoughts out of his mind, and he allowed only one unearned run on four hits in 5 13 innings. He struck out seven, walked four and hit the 21st home run of his career, a two-run shot that landed in the left-field bleachers.

He looked really good tonight, outfielder Marlon Byrd said, four-seamers, two-seamers, his slider was breaking late. (He) had it all.

Since returning to the rotation, Zambrano is 3-0 with a 1.84 ERA in five starts, and he has given up just two earned runs in his last three, a stretch of 18 23 innings. Hes raised his arm slot, which gives his sinker more movement, and disguises the ball from hitters.

Quade hasnt gone out of his way to connect with Zambrano. The manager thinks Zambranos most important relationship is with pitching coach Larry Rothschild. Everyones job is easier when the emotional pitcher is focused.

The Cubs (56-76) are now 5-2 under Quade, who chatted briefly with chairman Tom Ricketts on Monday after the organizational picture was taken in the seats behind the dugout. Yes, this is only the Pirates (43-88) when youre evaluating Zambrano and Quade. But the Cubs are just 4-9 against them this season.

Everything right now is heading in the right direction, Quade said. It is a process and it doesnt happen overnight and we got plenty of stuff to iron out. Satisfaction is not something Im really big on.

Before his first game managing at Wrigley Field, Quade did take a moment to soak it all in during the national anthem. He had waited 17 years and 2,378 games for this while managing in the minors, plus seven more years as a major-league coach.

Its not just about being here, Quade said. Its about where Ive been. And Ive been damn near everywhere, so this is a pretty good place to end up right now.

After the blowout win, Quade walked into the interview room down the hall from the Cubs clubhouse and said how it looks so much bigger on TV. When he stepped down from the podium, a media relations staffer reached out to make sure he didnt bump his head on a pipe running at an angle from the wall to the ceiling.

Zambrano doesnt like to talk between starts, but he can be quite candid when he sits down behind that microphone. He could be here to stay.

Its a long season, Zambrano said. Its not how you start. Its how you finish.

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