2/25 Pitching notes: Big Z likely Opening Day starter

Carlos Zambrano will likely be the Cubs’ Opening Day starter for the sixth straight year.

“We haven’t even gone there yet,” Lou Piniella said when asked if he’d named his starter for the April 5 season opener in Atlanta. “I’ve been here three years and Zambrano has been the Opening Day starter every year. I don’t anticipate any difference there.”

Some other pitching updates:

* Angel Guzman was shutdown because of some discomfort in his right shoulder. Guzman underwent arthroscopic knee surgery in January and already was a couple weeks behind the others. He still could be ready by Opening Day.

“We just felt that coming off the ‘scope and because he’s had difficulties on and off in the past, that we’ll take the precautionary route and push him back a couple days,” GM Jim Hendry said.

* Ted Lilly remained at home for the fourth straight day because of a high fever. Athletic trainer Mark O’Neal planned on visiting Lilly at his home to get an update. They hope the lefty can come to Fitch Park on Friday to play catch.

* One pitcher who appears to have secured a spot in the bullpen is Esmailin Caridad.

“He’s on the team,” Piniella said. “He’s almost got to pitch himself off it. I don’t think he will. I like this young man. He competes, he’s got a good arm, he can pitch a lot. He handled himself here quite well the last two months of the season.”

Caridad appeared in 14 games with the Cubs late last season and gave up three earned runs over 19 1/3 innings for a 1.40 ERA. He’s not experienced — last year was his first at Triple-A. Could he be the right-handed set-up pitcher the Cubs need?

“He’s got the stuff for it,” Piniella said. “Does he have the experience, savvy? We’ll have to wait and see. He does have the stuff. One good thing about this young man is he’s not scared.”

* Another pitcher who has impressed the coaching staff this spring is Jeff Samardzija. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild told Piniella that the first couple years, Samardzija looked like a football player who was pitching. Rothschild said this year, the right-hander looks like a baseball player who played football.

“That’s a big transformation and that’s a really profound statement as far as I’m concerned,” Piniella said. “It says he’s making the adjustments and really stepping forward and looking like a Major League pitcher.”

Samardzija’s mechanics are better.

“He’s throwing the ball smoother, with less effort and his mechanics have approved,” Piniella said. “He looks like a Major League pitcher on the mound. He’s got natural talent. It’s just a question of refining it. We’re going to let this guy pitch and around the 20th of March, we’ll see exactly where he’s at.”

* Jeff Gray, sidelined with a sore groin, did throw on flat ground Thursday. He was not expected to throw off a mound until next week when the team moves to HoHoKam Park fo the start of games.

– Carrie Muskat

7 Comments

I was wondering why my fellow Cubs fans think about whether Dempster shouldn’t be given a go at being the opening day starter? Maybe it would be a bit of a wake up call for Z? Outside of Demp’s freak/silly injury last year it seems that he’s been closer to an ace than Z has. There is no doubt that Z has the best stuff on the team, the problem has been consistency. I’m fine with him being the opening day starter, but I think they should at least leave the door open for Demp to start. What do the rest of you think??

By “why” I meant “what”. I guess I should have checked for errors before submitting!

pman, at this point with the Cubs lacking a lightsout type of ace it’s a coin toss between big Z and Dempster. You bring up a good point about a wake up call for big Z and if Dempster were to get the nod that wake up call may be the only reason for giving the day to Dempster. I think if Lilly were available he would be the most logical choice based on quality and consistency. I’m starting to think Dempster has peaked and what we saw last year is what we’ll get this year, a quality starter capable of winning about 15 games. What most teams aspiring to go to the World Series need is a pitcher not only capable of winning 18-20 games but PROBABLE to win 18-20 games. I can’t comfortably say the Cubs have any starting pitcher that will probably win 18-20 games but at least they have 3 that have a slim chance of doing so.

Joey, what you say makes sense, though I wouldn’t frame it in as negative of a light as you did. The one exception is your thought on Dempster. I think he’ll have another big year, or at least that he’s still got it in him to have another big year. I think he’s just hitting stride.

pman, reality or pessimism like beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I respect your optimism regarding Dempster and the pitching staff in general I just don’t share it. If you consider winning 12-16 games a big year for a number one or number two pitcher then Dempster may very well have what you think is another big year or hit his stride. I still feel the need to reserve my optimism as I think having a big year for a top of the rotation pitcher is 18 or more wins and I am considering the “tight games” that wind up in the loss column as I understand there is more to having a big year than the number of victories. It all depends on the pitcher. In the case of either Zambrano or Dempster I would have to think 18 wins with a lot of 7 inning games and an era of under 3 would qualify as a big year, put two of those years back to back and that would qualify as hitting one’s stride. Randy Wells could put together another 11-14 win season with an era of under 4 and for him I would consider that a big year, but when he reaches Zambrano’s or Dempster’s tenure and he is still having 11-14 wins per season I would THEN not consider those big years for him. All I can do if not share your optimism is hope that you and other more optimistic fans than myself are on to something that I am missing, at this point the way the entire team is shaping up (or not shaping up) without a very good lead-off man, without a proven closer (although most of my optimism is reserved for Marmol), with Lilly re-habbing, with Soriano re-habbing, questions at 2B, and most importantly two of our most productive RBI guys Ramirez and Lee a little older and more prone to injury (Lee’s neck, Ram’s arm)…the time may be ripe for other teams such as the Reds and Brewers to leap frog over the Cubs.

Joey, by “hitting his stride” I meant that Dempster looked good enough to wine 18 and have a low 3 era. If he hadn’t had the injury he would have had an ace type of year. He doesn’t have as good of stuff as Z, but I think his level head keeps him in games where Z normally loses it. I’m not even going to get into your form of “realism”. It’s take too long and I don’t like talking to walls that much. :)

Hmmmm…pman, you don’t like talking to walls and Soriano doesen’t like going near them, time to move on.

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