Cubs accept risks of pitchers on offense

Cubs accept risks of pitchers on offense

CHICAGO -- Carlos Zambrano may be the highest paid pinch-hitter the Cubs have ever used, but don't expect them to stop having pitchers sub at the plate or on the bases if needed because the right-hander was injured running the bases.

Zambrano strained his hamstring Sunday trying to beat out a bunt single and was placed on the 15-day disabled list Monday. He's not about to change his full-speed approach to the game.

"If my legs feel 100 percent, I'll be the same," Zambrano said Monday. "I have to work my game and I have to hustle. That's the way I know how to play. If I have to put a bunt down for my team to win the game, if they leave something over the middle and I crush it over the fence, I'll do whatever it takes to win the ballgame. In the National League, you have to be athletic and do whatever you can do."

Zambrano, who has won two Silver Slugger awards, was used as a pinch-hitter Friday and Saturday for the Cubs, who have been shorthanded because of injuries that are bad enough to limit players but not enough to force them to go on the disabled list. Aramis Ramirez strained his left calf while Milton Bradley has been nursing a sore groin.

Last year, Lou Piniella would use pitcher Jason Marquis as a pinch-runner. The Cubs manager is aware of the risk.

"Things can happen, there's no question," Piniella said. "But who am I going to use? I can't use guys who have bad legs. I can't use my second catcher. Unless I pinch-run [coach Matt] Sinatro over there at first base, you don't know what to do.

"Alan [Trammell, bench coach] and I talk about it, and it always comes down to, let's run a pitcher," Piniella said. "You need to pinch-run and double-switch and there just aren't many places to go."

When the Cubs pulled Zambrano from Sunday's game, Piniella inserted pitcher Rich Harden as a pinch-runner. Harden is one of the fastest players on the team and already has beaten out an infield single.

"The argument against that is that you're not on the bases that often and the organization, that's the last place they want you to get hurt is on the bases," Cubs pitcher Ted Lilly said. "I guess my feeling is if there was a way to take advantage of a pitcher -- especially a guy like Rich Harden with his speed -- then we should take advantage of it."

San Francisco's Tim Lincecum likes being more involved in the game.

"I remember, a couple of years ago, we had Noah Lowry pinch-hitting and in right field," Lincecum said. "If the situation calls for it, even with all the guys on the bench, sometimes there's not enough substitutes. Sometimes pitchers are going to have to take that shot. I'd gladly go out there to get a bunt down or run the bases -- it's always fun.

"This is the real baseball -- having pitchers hit and stuff. I love the pitching and hitting combo. As bad as I am at hitting, it's still fun to do."

Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said he didn't expect Zambrano to change his ways or Piniella to alter his substitutions because of the injury.

"It's part of baseball," Hendry said. "You can't get into 'the hamstring got pulled because he bunted.' If he had hit a ground ball up the middle and tried to beat it out, it might have happened, too. [Zambrano] has been playing that way since he got to the big leagues. He plays the offensive game as hard as any pitcher in the game. I don't think you take that away from him.

"You don't want a guy hitting a ground ball to shortstop and jogging to first either. It happens. Unfortunately, it happened to us at the wrong time."

Piniella said the pitchers are always trying to convince him to use them if needed.

"They're athletes," Piniella said. "If you talk to them, they're athletes. They want to be involved. They enjoy the hitting part of it, they enjoy running the bases and helping win a baseball game in different ways."

The Cubs are paying Zambrano $91.5 million over five years to pitch. Now, they're looking for help in the Minor Leagues.

"What choices do you have?" Piniella said. "Do you tell the pitcher to just lead off first base and get picked off so you don't have to run?"

Piniella did have Joey Gathright and Reed Johnson on the bench, but wanted to save them.

"You have to look at the give and take here," Piniella said.

"Injuries can happen to anyone at any time," Lilly said. "I really enjoy being a pinch-runner."

Maybe Zambrano should stop bunting. He's got 17 career home runs, including one this year.

"I know a lot of people say, 'Why did he bunt?'" Piniella said. "What if he hit a ball off the wall and hurt [his leg] trying to go into second on a double? He shouldn't hit a double? I don't get the reasoning."

San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy has used pitchers as pinch-runners as well.

"I've done it quite a few times," Bochy said. "I had a pitcher, Adam Eaton, who was a good athlete, who could hit and bunt and run the bases. They're valuable on the ballclub. Guys [getting hurt], it's going to happen, maybe occasionally, but it gives you another weapon and he [Zambrano] certainly is one the way he can swing the bat and bunt and run.

"You don't play to [worry about injuries], you play to win. You use your 25 guys. You don't plan on anybody getting hurt. That's, to me, not the way to manage or the way to be, or to worry about."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.