The Rundown: Big Z Announces Comeback with Chicago Dogs, Maddon Coy About Contreras’ Mechanics, Yelich Hits 47 More Homers

Mike Canter is still out, but I’m hoping desperately that he returns tomorrow because these shoes are too big to fill and I’m getting blisters on my feet.

Carlos Zambrano was out on the field at Marlins Park to pal around with members of the club for which he served as ace for the better part of 11 years. He was in good spirits and seemed to be in decent shape, if not for perhaps carrying around an extra hot dog or three. Which is fitting since Zambrano announced before the game that he plans to make a comeback with the independent Chicago Dogs.

Big Z, who hasn’t pitched professionally in the US since 2013, said he is on a mission from God.

“I went to that [Christian youth conference in Venezuela], and something happened to me and changed my life,’’ Zambrano explained. ‘‘I had an encounter with God. I used to believe in God. And now I’m committed.’’

But how does a guy whose fastball had dropped off to 91 mph at 32 years old and who was throwing 89 in Mexico last year have a chance? Well, it helps that he was suddenly hitting 94 during his time in the Venezuelan Winter League. And while that jump no doubt raises suspicions, it’s not as if such things are unprecedented.

And what’s easy to forget in all of this is that Zambrano isn’t ancient. He’ll turn 38 on June 1, which makes him almost exactly two years younger than yours truly and exactly two months younger than another wild comeback story. Luke Hagerty hadn’t thrown professionally in a decade or so, then worked himself back to throwing almost triple digits before elbow reconstruction forced a detour.

‘‘Why not?’’ Zambrano asked rhetorically. “Bartolo [Colon] pitched until he was 45. I’m 37.’’

The fiery pitcher says he’s been mellowed by faith and that he’s committed to really getting after it this time around. He’s got a couple weeks to prepare before his May 2 physical and the Dogs’ season starts 15 days after that, which gives him a month to round into a shape that’s perhaps a little less round.

Is this just another gimmick from to sell tickets — which, for the record, is a great idea and I will be buying some — or are we looking at a guy with a legitimate shot at launching a comeback in the city that made him famous?

‘‘I don’t know what God will do,’’ Zabrano said.

What changes has Contreras made?

Joe Maddon has mentioned more than once that he’s noticed a change in Willson Contreras‘ hitting mechanics, but so far he’s failed to reveal exactly what it is. Maddon remained coy after the catcher launched his team-leading sixth home run Monday night, saying only that it wasn’t just an early load.

Okay, so what was it?

That’s a good question, and not one I’m sure I can answer very well. But the Cubs Insider braintrust did have some exploratory conversations about it and I’m hopeful that Brendan Miller will break things down in more detail later. In the meantime, however, I wanted to include some side-by-side video that Corey Freedman — my best friend in the whole world and easily our most valuable employee — put together last night.

Take a look and see if you notice anything in these comparisons between last year (left) and this (right), then I’ll stick around after to discuss.

The first thing that stands out is that his hands are higher and farther back, as evidenced by his front shoulder (you can see more of his last name). That’s the earlier load part. His crouch appears to be more dynamic as well, with his knees more aligned and his stance just a little less open than last year. But what could really be helping is the reduced leg kick.

It could simply be a matter of me applying confirmation bias to what I’m seeing, but Contreras appears to be much more balanced in the more recent image. He’s not getting all the way into Danial LaRusso crane kick mode, so his weight isn’t shifting back before exploding forward. That means his potential energy is released more like a coiled spring than a pendulum.

Even if you don’t really get into all the specific mechanical stuff, think about the most basic nature of baseball performance: Every additional movement makes it that much more difficult to repeat the motion and establish timing. Contreras is quieter here — now do it behind the plate! — and he’s better able to explode into his swing.

Here’s the live video so you can see it in action. God, that looks pretty.

Cubs News & Notes

  • Between the Cubs Related podcast and a post from Jeff Burdick, I think we fixed the bullpen’s walk issues.
  • Yu Darvish threw some nasty junk and nearly hit triple digits on his last three pitches. He also hit Lewis Brinson in the junk with his last pitch.
  • Matthew Pouliot, an NBC Sports blogger and Executive Editor of Rotoworld, unleashed a molten hot take about Darvish trying to hit Brinson on purpose, then walked it back with an opinion that can be interpreted as “Pitchers should not throw hard and should only ever throw right over the plate.” That this is coming from someone earning a living covering baseball in some form is unconscionable.

  • Darvish said after the game that he knew it was his last inning, so he was cranking it up a notch to empty the tank. It was evident from his last few pitches that he’d altered his mechanics and was really putting a lot more on it. Plus, he had only a three-run lead and had zipped two previous heaters with good location. So why in the blue hell would he up and hit a guy with a career .566 OPS with his hardest pitch of the night? He wouldn’t, that’s why.
  • Albert Almora Jr. made a phenomenal sliding grab to help Yu Darvish early.

How About That!

Tuesday Walk Up Song

Miami, You’ve Got Style – The Golden Girls. This video is all the description you need.

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