Carlos Zambrano warms up before Sunday's game in Tempe. Photo by Al
TEMPE, Arizona -- See, I know headlines like that get some people's blood boiling, and it's not what you think.
But I got you to read this far, right?
Look at Carlos Zambrano's line from today's game -- 5.2 IP, nine hits, four earned runs (6.35 game ERA, 1.59 game WHIP) and it doesn't look all that good.
But there is a story within that you wouldn't know unless you saw the game, a 4-0 loss to the Angels. Z gave up three singles in the second inning, loading the bases -- one of those singles was a ball that was knocked down by Ryan Theriot, but he couldn't make the play on Howie Kendrick, who runs very well. After Brandon Wood singled to load the bases with one out, Chone Figgins hit a ball down the line that Daryle Ward couldn't make a play on.
Result: ball in RF corner, bases cleared, triple for Figgins.
Now does any one of you think that play would have happened that way if Derrek Lee had been playing first base today?
Of course not. Lee, one of the better-fielding 1B in the game, would likely have speared the ball and at the very least gotten one out, and perhaps started an inning-ending double play. Had that happened, Z might have gone through the first six innings giving up what John Lackey did -- nothing. Lackey was dominant, giving the Cubs only two singles (one by Theriot, the other by Cesar Izturis); Z gave up only two other singles until he ran out of gas in the sixth inning, when the Angels scored their fourth run on three hits -- including yet another ball that Alfonso Soriano seemed to not see very well off the bat, which went for a double over his head.
And it was just then that I was thinking, "Soriano seems a lot more comfortable out there today", as he had made several nice plays, and appeared to be reading the ball pretty well. Actually, I think he's going to be just fine. Each day does seem to be getting better for him out there, and remember the man has been playing CF for all of two weeks' worth of actual competition.
Back to Z for a moment -- one of the best things about his day is that he didn't walk anyone. I don't have an exact pitch count, but it was low enough through five innings that Lou Piniella let him go out there for the sixth, which I don't think was in Lou's original plan. Z struck out Wood (his fourth K) for his final batter before Scott Eyre came on and ended the sixth with a comebacker. Eyre also threw an uneventful seventh before giving way to... Hector ("Not Danny") Almonte.
You're saying, "Who?" Well, so was I. No one at the game seemed to know who the righthander wearing #77 was, either. I had to look him up -- here's his undistinguished major league record. He's 31 and last appeared in a major league game in 2003, for a team that no longer exists, the Expos.
He had a 1-2-3 inning, but why? Michael Wuertz and Roberto Novoa, two pitchers who the Cubs might actually need (particularly Wuertz) were sitting on the bullpen bench. And it didn't appear that either one was going to get into the game even if the Cubs had tied it up -- warming up at game's end was Carmen Pignatiello.
Well, at least this defeat was fast and merciful -- two hours and thirteen minutes, on another hot (91 degrees at gametime) day, in front of the usual half-Cub-fans-at-a-road-game crowd.
I ran into Rob from 6-4-2, the Angels/Dodgers combo blog, whose wife Helen is a big Cubs fan. She was around somewhere, but didn't come out to the lawn to say hi. I'm expecting to see them sometime later this week back at Mesa -- and Rob, if you were thinking I wasn't recognizing you at first, I wasn't, because you looked quite a bit different than the last time I saw you two years ago!
I'm not worried about the offense -- sometimes, you just run into a good pitcher having an outstanding day, and that's what John Lackey was doing with the Cubs today. The Cubs, who have been fairly patient hitters this spring, finally drew the game's only walk with two out in the ninth (Ryan Theriot) off Darren Oliver (yes, that Darren Oliver, who the Cubs released in 2005 after he had three really bad appearances for them at Iowa, after which he became a reasonably effective middle reliever for the Mets last year).
Finally, although the folks in Mesa have improved the souvenir concessions considerably this year, they could take a lesson from the Diablos, who run the show in Tempe. A program nearly identical in size and content to the $5 book they sell in Mesa... cost one dollar.