No hard feelings for Carlos Zambrano

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No hard feelings for Carlos Zambrano

MIAMI Carlos Zambrano smiled and shook hands with Chicago reporters. He flexed his muscles for a photo by the batting cage. He joked that theres nothing to write about now that hes gone. He talked in the third person.

The Cubs signed him as a teenager out of Venezuela, and he spent almost half his life in the organization. But they could never figure out which Zambrano they were going to get each night.

The Cubs never quite understood how someone so charming and funny, so devoted to his faith and family, could become so angry and violent. Its not their problem anymore.

When Zambrano cleared out his locker and talked about retirement in a moment of frustration last August, former general manager Jim Hendry called his bluff.

Zambrano said hes OK with Hendry, who negotiated the 91.5 million contract that changed everything. Zambrano wrote off the trade Theo Epstein engineered with the Marlins as just business.

No hard feelings, Zambrano said Tuesday. I know that I made a lot of mistakes in Chicago, but I know that I left and I gave a lot of good memories to the Cubs. I accept it. I accept my mistakes. Im responsible. I dont make excuses.

Im responsible for the things that happened in Chicago. Nobody else. It wasnt Jim Hendry. It wasnt the team. It was me, Carlos Zambrano.

When Epstein took over as president at Clark and Addison, he took a lunch meeting with Zambrano at a Wrigleyville brewpub last November. Zambrano, who was playing winter ball in Venezuela, flew to Chicago with the hopes of getting another chance.

Teammates didnt think Zambrano was a bad guy, but any real culture change meant Big Z couldnt walk back into that clubhouse.

By January, the Cubs had the deal that seemed inevitable from the moment Ozzie Guillen took his talents to South Beach. Zambrano waived his no-trade clause and voided a potential option for 2013 to play for his friend from Venezuela.

The Cubs transferred more than 15 million to the Marlins and got back pitcher Chris Volstad, a former first-round pick with change-of-scenery upside.

I talked to my family, my wife, my brothers, even my daughter, Zambrano said. She said, Daddy, whatever you decide, Im with you. That showed me.

It was a family decision. My family thought that it was better for me to move to Chicago.

Until Tuesday, Zambrano said he hadnt really spoken with any of his former teammates. He had no problem with the way Epstein handled the situation.

Believe me, he knows what hes doing, Zambrano said. I heard criticisms, people saying this and that about him, about the team. That teams good. (They) have good pitching.

He made some moves that he thought was good for the team.He came from Boston and did a good job over there and now he wants to do the same thing in Chicago. I think he can do it. Hes a smart guy. He thinks ahead.

Zambrano felt it was too soon to face the Cubs, so he wasnt disappointed his turn in the rotation didnt come up during this three-game series at Marlins Park.

Looking ahead, Zambrano wants the ball when the Marlins visit Wrigley Field just after the All-Star break (July 17-19). He loves Chicago and says he left his heart there. He isnt sure how the fans will react.

Whatever, Zambrano said. I know them I guarantee you one thing for sure if the Cubs are playing good by that time, and theyre in first place, I think I will be (received well). If theyre doing bad, I think I will be booed. But I dont care. Im a Marlin now.

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Theories on why Cubs haven’t played up to their defensive potential yet

“That’s what we’re supposed to look like,” Joe Maddon said Monday night after a 6-4 loss where the San Francisco Giants scored the first six runs and Wrigley Field got loudest for the David Ross “Dancing with the Stars” look-in on the big video board, at least until a late flurry from the Cubs.

But for a manager always looking for the silver linings, Maddon could replay Addison Russell’s diving stop to his right and strong throw from deep in the hole at shortstop to take a hit away from Christian Arroyo. Or Albert Almora’s spectacular flying catch near the warning track in center field. Or Anthony Rizzo stealing another hit from Brandon Belt with a diving backhanded play near the first-base line.

The highlight reel became a reminder of how the Cubs won 103 games and the World Series last year – and made you wonder why the 2017 team hasn’t played the same consistently excellent defense with largely the same group of personnel.

“Concentration?” Jason Heyward said, quickly dismissing the theory a defensive decline could boil down to focus or effort. “No shot. No shot. It is what it is when it comes to people asking questions about last year having effects, this and that. But this is a new season.

“The standard is still high. What’s our excuse? We played later than anybody? That may buy you some time, but then what?

“The goals stay the same. We just got to find new ways to do it when you have a different team.”

FiveThirtyEight.com, Nate Silver’s statistical website, framed the question this way after the Cubs allowed the lowest batting average on balls in play ever last season, an analysis that goes all the way back to 1871: “Have the Cubs Forgotten How to Field?”

Even if the Cubs don’t set records and make history, they should still be better than 23rd in the majors in defensive efficiency, with 37 errors through 43 games. The Cubs have already allowed 28 unearned runs after giving up 45 all last season.

“We just got to stay on it and keep focusing and not let the miscues go to our head,” Ben Zobrist said. “We just have to keep working hard and staying focused in the field. A lot of that’s the rhythm of the game. I blame a lot of that on the early parts of the season and the weather and a lot of difficult things that we’ve been going through.

“If we’re not hitting the ball well, too, we’re a young team still, and you can carry that into the field. You don’t want to let that happen, but it’s part of the game. You got to learn to move beyond miscues and just focus on the next play.”

Heyward, a four-time Gold Glove winner, missed two weeks with a sprained right finger and has already started nine times in center field (after doing that 21 times all last season). Zobrist has morphed back into a super-utility guy, starting 16 games at second base and 15 in two different outfield spots.

[MORE CUBS: Have the Cubs found their new leadoff hitter in Ben Zobrist?]

Maddon has tried to drill the idea of making the routine play into Javier Baez’s head, so that the uber-talented second baseman can allow his natural athleticism and instincts to take over during those dazzling moments.

The Cubs are basically hoping Kyle Schwarber keeps the ball in front of him in left and setting the bar at: Don’t crash into your center fielder. Like Schwarber and Almora, catcher Willson Contreras hasn’t played a full season in The Show yet, and the Cubs are now hoping Ian Happ can become a Zobrist-type defender all over the field.

“I’m seeing our guys playing in a lot of different places,” Heyward said. “It’s not just been penciling in every day who’s going to center field or right field or left field. We did shake things up some last year, but we did it kind of later in the season. We had guys settle in, playing every day. This year, I feel like we’re having guys in different spots.

“It’s May whatever, (but) it seems like we haven’t really had a chance to settle in yet. Not that we’re procrastinating by any means, but it’s just been a lot of moving pieces.”

The Giants won World Series titles in 2010, 2012 and 2014 with a formula that incorporated lights-out pitching, airtight defense and just enough clutch pitching. The Cubs are now a 22-21 team trying to figure it out again.

“Defense comes and goes, just like pitching,” said Kris Bryant, the reigning National League MVP, in part, because of his defensive versatility. “I feel like if you look at last year, it’s kind of hard to compare, just because it was so good. We spoiled everybody last year. Now we’re a complete letdown this year.”

Bryant paused and said: “Just kidding. Different years, things regress, things progress, and that’s just how it goes sometimes.”