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One of the most attractive things about Lou Piniella when he was signed was his reputation as being a guy who wasn’t going to put up with any of the BS that had plagued the Chicago Cubs clubhouse during the Dusty Baker years. And, for the most part, it was true – for a couple years.

But in 2010, Lou was visibly checked out, and the inmates ran the asylum. None worse, of course, than Carlos Zambrano, who blew a gasket midseason, and spent the better part of a month away from the team in anger management. Of course, he came back and was the best pitcher in baseball over the final month and a half, so it wasn’t all bad.

Still, there’s reason to be concerned going into 2011, and I’m not sure I love how Lou Piniella’s replacement, Mike Quade, is talking about it.

“I expect Carlos to handle himself the way he finished up last year,” Cubs manager Mike Quade said of the right-hander, who finished 8-0 in his final 11 starts. “Whether he explodes or whatever the thing is, all right, so he explodes? Take a walk, see you in five days, pitch well.

“If it becomes a reoccuring thing, then we have a problem. If we’re going to have individual guys taking care of each guy who has emotional issues, man, we’re not going to have a big enough plane.”

That prompted more than a few laughs from the crowd at the Continental Ballroom.

Zambrano did undergo anger management therapy last season after a tantrum in the dugout on June 25. Quade said he likes Big Z’s enthusiasm for the game.

“One thing I don’t want to do is take all the passion out of Carlos Zambrano,” Quade said. “If a little bit of overexcitement results in him pitching and performing well, we’ll deal with that. There’s no question Greg Maddux will benefit him and everybody else. But I don’t want to make them roommates.” cubs.com.

Quade definitely said some good things – no recurring issues and all that. But he’s already explaining away and absolving Zambrano of temper tantrums and “explosions”?

Might situations occur that merit letting Z do his thing? Of course. Sometimes Z is going to be Z, and it’s better to let him pop and stew for a half inning than to ring him by the collar. But why would you set that up as the standard now? Wouldn’t it be preferable to say that you’re going to hold him to the same standard as the rest of the team? Passionate, yes. Under control? Yes.

It is, to my mind, not a coincidence that Zambrano pitched so well after counseling last year – it wasn’t just the counseling, but it was also the forced realization that he does not pitch well when he’s out of control. We’ve all seen it. So he controlled himself, and he dominated.

Does that mean that you have to keep Zambrano under lock and key, never letting him scream to the sky and pound his mitt? No. But surely it isn’t a good idea to encourage him to start rolling that boulder down the hill, right?

For whatever reason, the tone of his comments now strike me as substantively different from comments he made earlier in the offseason, which sounded more like “I’m going to handle Big Z,” and this sounds more like “I’m going to handle Big Z, but not until it gets really bad.” Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I just don’t like it as a starting point.

  • pfk

    Ace, I’m OK with what Quade said. I think you are reading too much into it. I think Z knows that Hendry et al won’t put up with anymore of his acts. I also think Z finally knows that if he focuses and stays under control he can be awesome. Yes, he’ll have a hissy fit now and again, but those are OK. I actually think he’ll have a strong year. I just hope they send him a message by not making him be the Opening Day pitcher.

    • wax_eagle

      I think Garza will start opening day. Dempster and Z are both good pitchers and Wells has the potential to continue to be good. Garza is the only guy on this staff who still has the potential to be really good to great. He will start opening day and with a bit of luck will be the best pitcher on the staff the whole season.

      I think the rotation for the start of the season will be

      Garza
      Dempster
      Z
      Wells
      Silva

      When either Silva gets hurt with a season ending injury or Z goes on the crazy list again Cashner will take the 5th spot and do really well. If both happen Cashner and Diamond or Coleman will fill out the rotation. The Cubs can compete with the rotation above if 4 of those 5 play to their potential.

      • miggy80

        I personally think that it will be Dempster. He has 13 yrs of mlb service under his belt. Did a pretty good job back when he was a closer and he (from what I understand) has a good head on his shoulders. Plus he’s a good community guy. With a coach that has 14 yrs minor league experince, I doubt that Garza with 5 yrs of mlb service and first year with the Cubs gets the opening day nod.

    • Ace

      Even if it’s not as a message – Z stinks on Opening Day.

      • pfk

        Yes, he is one of the worst Opening Day pitchers of all time. The Cubs were always scared he’d blow up if he wasn’t the Opening Day starter.

        • wax_eagle

          Pretty sure after last year if he ever starts opening day again it doesn’t bode well for the Cubs season.

  • Raymond Robert Koenig

    Let’s not kid ourselves. Some time during the 2011 season Zambrano will have yet another of his “episodes”. Management will wring their hands and make excuses for him. The Cubs need to get rid of him before the season starts.

    • Mike S

      I bet you won’t be saying that if Big Z pitches lights out. How easy you turn on your players when things aren’t going well.

      • DaveB

        Raymond, do you realize how filthy Z was after he came back from his little episode? 8-0 in 11 starts, thats pure domination. Hes proven that he can pitch at the ace level, hes just never been able to keep it consistent (and actually regressed the last couple of years… until the end of last season). I know it occurred when the Cubs were already out of the race, but he wasn’t getting any help from his shittastic offense, it was basically all him winning those games (which he can also do offensively).

        Pure and simple he pitched at ace level those last 11 or so starts. He at least deserves the benefit of doubt and the chance to go out and do it from day 1, and do it over an entire season. Think about how many athletes have some sort of turning point in their career. ESPECIALLY in a sport like baseball, with pitching, I imagine it has to be very mental. Maybe Z needed the blowup last year to put things in perspective for him and make him realize what he wants to do if he truly wants to be successful (like Ace said). He obviously still has filthy stuff physically, its now just a matter of the mind game. Could he have another meltdown and suck it up? Yes. But if he was EVER going to turn the corner, it would be NOW. Hes 29, an age when most pitchers start entering their prime. After what happened last year, its basically now or never for him to step up. I’m excited to see what happens.

      • Raymond Robert Koenig

        We’ll see. Let’s let the season take it’s course. I believe we’ll see the same Zambrano as usual.

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