February 2010

2/18 Zambrano: "I feel like a rookie again"

Carlos Zambrano has a new haircut and a new mental approach to the game but has dropped 15 pounds and one of his pitches. The Cubs right-hander said Thursday he’s eliminating the cutter, saying it was a pitch he couldn’t control as well as his others.

“No more cutter,” Zambrano said. “Just sinker — sinker and split finger. [The cutter] was a pitch I sometimes couldn’t control. It’s good to have that pitch but it wasn’t the pitch that made me successful. The sinker was the one that made me good back in my career.”

Wait a minute — Zambrano isn’t that old. The 28-year-old pitcher says his repertoire will now include a sinker, slider, split and “high fastball.” He got a head start on the 2010 season by getting to Arizona around Feb. 1. On Thursday, he threw with the rest off the mound with the rest of the pitchers.

“I think I can be better,” said Zambrano, who is coming off a sour injury-filled season in which he went 9-7 in 28 starts. “Obviously, to be better, one of the ways is to work hard, be in shape, be in better shape, and do everything exactly right, not only physically but mentally.”

This is coming from a guy who bashed a Gatorade dispenser in the dugout with a bat, who never hides his emotions. What mental changes can Cubs fans expect?

“You will see,” Zambrano said with a smile. “I think I’ve passed that age or that stage when everything was getting me mad. That’s why you will see a different Carlos Zambrano, smiling and laughing with everybody, even with the umpires.”

The right-hander has lost 15 pounds and wants to drop another five before Opening Day to reach 255. He took his loss to another level by trimming his hair in the same cropped style it was during his rookie season in 2002.

“I feel like a new guy, I feel like a rookie again,” Zambrano said. “That’s why I got this haircut. Somebody said, ‘You look like when you were a rookie.’ When I first came up to pitch against Milwaukee [Aug. 20, 2001], I had the same haircut.”

— Carrie Muskat

2/17 Lou's message: Let's get back on top

Lou Piniella has his preseason message ready for the Cubs.

“The message is, let’s get back on top,” Piniella said Wednesday. “The message is we finished second in this division last year with a lot of things that went wrong for us. The message is let’s work hard, get ready for a championship season, and let’s add another 10-12 wins to our total last year and give ourselves a chance in the postseason.”

This could be Piniella’s last chance at getting to the playoffs. He’s in the last year of his contract.

“I’ve got enough confidence in my ability to do the job,” Piniella said. “I’m going to go out and try to win as many games as we possibly can. We have a new ownership group here, they’re excited about owning the Cubs, they want to win, they’re competitive and that’s what we want to do for them. My situation, we can worry about that at the end of the year.”

This is his 23rd season managing, and Piniella said he does not want his status to be a distraction.

“Nothing’s changed,” Piniella said. “I’ve never really wanted to talk about my situation. My disposition as a manager is to stay in the background and let the players stay in the forefront. They’re the ones the people come out to the ballpark to see play and they’re the ones who win and lose baseball games for you.”

— Carrie Muskat

2/17 Far east: Cubs sign Korean pitcher

The Cubs have signed 18-year-old Korean right-hander Kim Jin-Yeong. The Duk-Soo High School pitcher is said to have a 92 mph fastball. He’ll receive a $1.2 million signing bonus.

The team already has a few Korean players on the Minor League roster, including shortstop Hak-Ju Lee, who Baseball America ranked as the Cubs’ sixth-best prospect heading into 2010. Last season, he batted .330 at Boise with 25 stolen bases. Pitcher Dae-Eun Rhee, 20, was ranked fourth best by the publication prior to the 2009 season.

— Carrie Muskat

2/17 Injury bug: Guzman, Gray sidelined

Cubs pitchers and catchers have their first workout on Thursday at Fitch Park but already have two players who will miss practice. Angel Guzman injured a knee during a workout in Venezuela and had arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn meniscus two weeks ago. The procedure was done in Arizona. He was expected to be ready by Opening Day. Jeff Gray, whom the Cubs acquired from Oakland, has a moderate groin strain, injured during drills in Mesa. The right-hander will take it easy over the first few weeks of camp.

The only other pitcher who won’t be able to throw on Thursday is starter Ted Lilly, who underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder in early November. Lilly could be ready by mid April, but in the meantime, the Cubs will be auditioning starter candidates to sub for the lefty as well as fill the fifth spot. The contenders include Carlos Silva, Jeff Samardzija, Sean Marshall and Tom Gorzelanny.

“We’ve got enough people to look at,” Lou Piniella said Wednesday.

The Cubs are still in the market for a veteran right-handed reliever to help set-up closer Carlos Marmol, and could add someone via trade.

Another pitcher who reported to work on Wednesday was Greg Maddux, who has been added as a special assistant to GM Jim Hendry.

“We’ll have Greg do a lot of everything,” Hendry said of the four-time Cy Young winner, who won his first with the Cubs in 1992.

Maddux will work with pitching coach Larry Rothschild and Minor League pitching coordinator Mark Riggins as well as go to games with Hendry and assistant general manager Randy Bush to learn how to evaluate players.

“We’ll try to give him a little bit of everything in the first year,” Hendry said. “We’d be foolish to think he couldn’t help the players on the field.”

“All the young pitching talent we have, he’ll be invaluable,” Piniella said.

— Carrie Muskat

2/17 Theriot arbitration update

GM Jim Hendry will head to Florida on Thursday for Ryan Theriot’s arbitration hearing, which could be Friday or Saturday. Theriot is asking for $3.4 million while the Cubs have countered at $2.6 million. Arbitration hearings are scheduled through Saturday in St. Petersburg, Fla.

The Cubs have not gone to arbitration with a player since Mark Grace in 1993.

“A lot of times things are settled late, other times they’re not,” Hendry said. “We haven’t been [to a hearing] obviously in the nine years I’ve been dealing with arbitration either as the assistant general manager or the general manager. It’ll be a first time experience for us. It’s part of the business.”

Hendry has settled 36 straight arb cases since taking over.

“I think that speaks for itself,” Hendry said Wednesday. “We always try to do the right thing and sometimes you can’t avoid the process.”

During the hearing, the Cubs have to explain why Theriot isn’t worth the money he’s asking for. Are the Cubs worried about any bad feelings if Theriot loses his case?

“No — I’ve known Ryan since his LSU days,” Hendry said. “He’ll be an important part of the club this year.

“We’ll get through it. Ryan Theriot will be playing on Opening Day here and we need him to play well.”

— Carrie Muskat


2/17 Lilly update

There’s no official date for Ted Lilly’s return but he does have a goal in mind.

“I don’t know what the date is,” said Lilly, coming back from arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder. “I’d like to be ready when all the other healthy guys are. That would be good for me. If I can’t, I’ll be disappointed. I have to understand that sometimes you take one step back to gain a couple forward. … The whole idea is to not only come back as soon as possible and be out there contributing but be productive, too.”

Lilly has not thrown off the mound yet but is playing catch and on Tuesday was able to throw from about 120 feet. On Wednesday, the day pitchers and catchers report to Fitch Park, Lilly and Ryan Dempster went for a long run.

“It feels pretty strong,” Lilly said of his shoulder. “I expect to be ahead of schedule, whatever schedule comes out. I think the real test is first, when you get on the mound and start throwing downhill off the slope and after that when you get into a game situation and you try to really dial it up with runners in scoring positoin or whatever it is — that’s when you find out how healthy you really are.”

This is the last year of Lilly’s contract with the Cubs. He’d prefer to keep all negotiations between him and GM Jim Hendry private but said he hasn’t even approached the topic.

“I haven’t even thought about it,” Lilly said. “The first thing that comes to mind when you talk about something like that is I’ve been on many teams and been in this situation before and been with a lot of players before and I think the best thing to do is not make it be about yourself. I don’t want to draw attention to myself in that way and distract from anything our club is trying to do. I dont think it’s all about me.”

Lilly can’t wait to get in the cage with new hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo.

“I just briefly told him that if he can get me locked in at the plate, he’s doing some serious hitting coaching,” Lilly said.

— Carrie Muskat


2/16 Soto on steroids? "It's ridiculous," he says

When Geovany Soto showed up at the Cubs Convention in January 40 pounds lighter, some didn’t believe he lost the weight because of a new diet or workout plan. Maybe, some whispered out loud on Chicago talk radio, Soto was on steroids.

“I laugh at that,” Soto said Tuesday at Fitch Park after a hitting session. “My whole life, I’ve had weight problems and I’ve always been immature in terms of diet and never stuck to them. This past year, I had such a bad year and I was really disappointed in myself and I was willing to take that step and work hard and take it to the next level. I just laugh at [rumors about steroid use]. For me, it’s ridiculous.”

It wasn’t as if Soto had gone from an inflated, pumped up muscular player to a skinny one.

“I wasn’t strong,” he said. “I was just fat.”

Soto’s father tried to get his son to work out more when he was young. As Soto says, “I used to open the refrigerator a lot.” The catcher would try to eat small portions throughout the day but it didn’t work. This winter, he hired a personal trainer and stuck to his plan, and now looks fit. This spring, instead of having to do extra cardio workouts to get in shape, Soto is in shape.

“I’m anxious to go out there,” said Soto, who failed to follow up his sensational rookie year with a solid sophomore season. “I’m anxious to play. I felt like [last year] was like a knockout in the second round if I was a boxer. I’m ready to go out there. I’m well trained, my head’s clear, I’m just ready to go out there. I owe it to the fans, my teammates and myself.”

— Carrie Muskat

2/16 Options

MLBTradeRumors.com posted a list of players out of options who have less than five years of Major League service. The Cubs have six: Jeff Baker, Andres Blanco, Tom Gorzelanny, Angel Guzman, Koyie Hill and Geovany Soto. Those players would have to clear waivers before they could be sent to the Minors.

— Carrie Muskat

2/15 Early birds

Carlos Zambrano was among the early birds at Fitch Park on Monday. Pitchers and catchers do not have their first workout until Thursday, but Zambrano was throwing off the mound in Mesa along with Randy Wells, Jeff Samardzija, Sean Marshall, Jeff Stevens, Tom Gorzelanny, Michael Parisi, David Patton, Jeff Gray, John Gaub and Vince Perkins. Gorzelanny is one of many who said he decided to report early just to get out of the snow up north. Catcher Koyie Hill also reported early to camp.

— Carrie Muskat

2/10/10 Winter Olympics & the Cubs

Can’t get to Vancouver for the Winter Olympics? The Cubs will host an Olympics kickoff celebration at the Ice Rink at Wrigley Field on Thursday. The Cubs are teaming with World Sport Chicago for the event, starting at 5 p.m. CT.

There will be demonstrations of ice sports featured in the Vancouver Olympic and Paralympic Games, such as speed skating and figure skating, followed by the opportunity to meet U.S. Winter and Summer Olympians and Paralympians. The event will continue with a free community skate.

— Carrie Muskat