Well, it was a wild wacky first week of Cubs spring training. Under Armour, hot tubs, and bizzare explanations. There have been a buncho of positive things too. High expectations, Soriano arriving early, guys coming to camp in shape, and "Cubbie Swagger" Let’s take a look at the week that was.
Big Z-Should I Stay or Should I Go?
Thought the old Clash song would be appropriate here. The start to camp was not the greatest, with Zambrano telling WGN;
"Whatever happens, I don’t want to know [anything] about a contract during the season. I want to sign with the Cubs before the season starts. If they don’t sign me, sorry, but I must go. That’s what Carlos Zambrano thinks."
Wow, we all thought, he sound serious. Jim Hendry played it off as no big deal, and soon after Carlos was "clarifying" what he meant;
"I didn’t say that if they don’t sign me before the end of Spring Training that I will not sign with the Cubs," Zambrano said. "They have until the beginning of the season, because I don’t want to talk about the contract during the season."
OK, if you say so. I just want you to stay Carlos. I like your fire, your intensity, your passion for the game. So hopefully this will be resolved soon. Past history has shown that the Cubs don’t let players go to arbitration and a lot of contracts are signed before spring training starts.
Don’t worry Carlos, you had us at hola.
Beware of Hot Tubs
Kerry Wood skipped the first throwing session after hurting his ribs Monday slipping out of a hot tub, making him the first Cub to be sidelined with an injury.
"It’s about that time of year, isn’t it?" Wood said. "Just typical. I was getting out of the hot tub at the house and took a little spill. Didn’t think anything of it, and it hurt a little more than I thought. Nothing’s wrong."
Cub fans rolled their eyes, but apparently things are ok for Kid K. Wood returned to the mound earlier than expected Saturday, getting in a brief bullpen session with Larry Rothchild. Wood wasn’t expected to throw until Monday, but felt good enough after some long toss to start throwing off the mound. Rothchild limited him to ten pitches, but liked what he saw.
”He really looked good,” Rothschild said. ”You can tell he’s done a lot of work with balance, and he really used his legs well.”
Barring any bizzare home injuries (falling off the roof while cleaning out gutters, falling down the stairs, etc.), Wood will move into a regular spring workout schedule, Rothschild said.
Ready To Return As The Closer
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. A tale of two cities definitly describes Ryan Dempsters’ season last year. Dempster set a record with 26 saves in 26 chances. His streak began with a 19-save stretch in 2005 and carried over into the ’06 season, where he earned seven more saves in April and early May. Then the bottom dropped out. On May 13, he blew a save in his eighth chance of the season, which started a new streak, three blown saves in four chances. It never got better for Dempster. The right-hander went 1-9 with a 4.80 ERA in a career-high 74 outings, and finished fifth in most blown saves in MLB with 9. The worst of those for Cubs fans occured on July 1st, when the Cubs, leading by one vs the White Sox, watched as Dempster gave up a three run homerun to villan A.J. Pierzynski, causing fans to throw garbage on the field. Dempster blamed himself this week for his problems, even admitting that he let himself go last year;
”Toward the end of the year, I would be naive to think I wasn’t heavier than I normally was,” Dempster said. ”When you’re struggling as a team, especially toward the tail end of the season, it’s terrible as a professional athlete and a big-league ballplayer, but I found myself letting a lot of things go.
By the end of the year, Dusty Baker was handing the ball to Bobby Howry in the ninth, not Dempster
”I think sometimes when you don’t get a chance to go back out there when a save situation comes up, I think those are the times when you wonder … not necessarily doubt yourself … yeah, you doubt yourself,” Dempster said. ”You’re like, ‘Man, why am I not back out there in that situation?’ It’s just a confidence thing. This game is all about confidence.”
Pinella knows that the closer role is key, and he has two other options if Dempster can’t get it done; Howry and Wood. We’ll see how this one plays out.
”His stuff was good, but his command got him in trouble,” Piniella said ”You look at his season, and command — walks — had a lot to do with his problem. Well, that’s a position, the closer’s role, where you have got to be able to throw strikes. And that’s what we will work with Ryan more than anything else this spring.”
Shoulder Still Holding Together After First Week
Mark Prior used this first week to try to dispell notions that his problems were more mental than physical. It was last year that a visit to orthopedic specialist James Andrews proved there actually were some physical issues with his oft-injured right shoulder. Prior has "looseness" in his shoulder, which is genetic, and which helps his delivery but also means he has to do a lot of shoulder strengthening exercises. His problems began when he collided with Atlanta’s Marcus Giles in 2003, and manifested itself through the broken elbow caused by Brad Hawpe’s line drive in 2005. Prior discussed people’s opinion that he is soft.
"Everybody is always talking about my mind-set," Prior said. "It’s funny. Everyone wants to talk about my mind. I knew I had some significant problems going on with my shoulder and [Andrews] just laid them out in more black-and-white [terms] than gray. We all know doctors aren’t always definitive, but it was good to get a second opinion—this is what it is and this is what you have to do. It wasn’t easy to take, but that’s life."
After doing major off season strength training on his shoulder, Prior is ready to compete for the fifth spot in the rotation, with Wade Miller and the youngsters, Sean Marshall, Carlos Marmol, Angel Guzman, and Juan Mateo. If he can play the way he did in 2003, this really could be the year. According to Pinella, he’ll wait and see with Prior.
"We’ll formulate those as we go along," Piniella said. "Look, Prior is a talented kid and his main problem has been that he has not been healthy. So far he feels good and he’s healthy. Let’s just keep it that way, and then we’ll see."
Jones Sets the Record Straight
Jacque Jones wanted to clear up a few things before the season got started. First off, he wants to be a Cub, and he never asked to be traded. Jones had a difficult year last year, but he is ready to turn the page.
”I was uncomfortable with some of the things that happened, of course,” he said. ”Was I uncomfortable at having a ball thrown at me? Was I uncomfortable being called a ******? Yes. But wanting to be traded? I never asked to be traded.”
Honestly, I was disappointed with the treatment that Jones got from Cubs fans. I was unhappy with the contract Hendry gave Jones, but was that his fault that the Cubs overpaid and gave him too many years? No one should ever use racists slurs, period, but especially don’t use them against our own players. As far as the ball being thrown at Jones, I want someone to explain to me why the girl who did that wasn’t arrested. Talk about sexual descrimination, do you think if it was a drunk male fan, they wouldn’t have been arrested? Now Jones did have his fair share of trouble, base running mistakes, bad throws from the outfield, but he looks to turn that around. The bad throws were caused by chronic shoulder pain. Jones, like Prior, has been in a a winterlong strengthening program forhis shoulder and appears to have put his throwing arm back at full capacity. With Soriano, Matt Murton, Felix Pie, Ryan Therior, Angel Pagan, and others trying to earn an outfield spot, Jones may be gone before the season is over. He did hit .285 with 27 home runs and he does hit left handed in a Cubs line up that is almost entirely right handed.
The good thing with these 2007 Cubs is that there appears to be a lot of depth, a quality that was lacking in the 2006 Cubs. We’ll see how this all plays out.