Maddux's mentoring proving valuable to Cubs
Future Hall of Famer filling a number of roles for Chicago
ATLANTA -- Carlos Zambrano may want to call Greg Maddux.
Big Z had a rough start in the Cubs' season opener on Monday, giving up eight runs over 1 1/3 innings in a 16-5 loss to the Braves. His trouble? Location. He fell behind in the count and left too many pitches over the middle of the plate.
Maddux has often said that the best pitch is a well-located fastball. The four-time Cy Young Award winner made that point to Chicago pitchers this spring in his new role as assistant to the general manager. The former Cubs and Braves pitcher dabbled in a variety of duties this spring, from watching pitchers to scouting to even throwing a little batting practice.
One day this past spring, Minor League catcher Chris Robinson was at Fitch Park, and the Cubs were short of coaches to throw batting practice. Maddux volunteered, threw a couple times to warm up, then asked Robinson what he wanted to work on. Maddux then pinpointed the pitches exactly where Robinson wanted.
It was the first time Maddux had thrown BP to someone other than a 12-year-old.
On a rainy day in February, Maddux was standing behind pitcher Jeff Stevens, who was throwing in the batting cages. Stevens' assignment was to throw 20 pitches, rest, then throw another 20. After he began, Maddux made a suggestion.
"He's pretty soft-spoken," Stevens said. "He'd whisper one thing to you -- you're going to trust him. He said, 'Throw a slider here.' He would help me with sequence and gave me perspective.
"During the bullpen, you have a tendency to throw 10 fastballs in a row and 10 sliders," Stevens said. "[Maddux] was saying, 'When are you ever going to pitch like that?' There's no use in throwing 10 sliders, because you're never going to do that [in a game]."
Maddux, who turns 44 on April 14, isn't delivering a different message from that of pitching coach Larry Rothschild, but somehow, coming from a 355-game winner, it has more impact. Chicago pitchers consider Maddux to be a perfect complement to Rothschild.
"[Maddux] is here to help out, and I think he just wants to stay out of the way and stay in the shadows and kind of hang out and watch baseball," pitcher Tom Gorzelanny said. "It's been fun having him around because of the way he is and the guy he is. He's a funny guy."
During Gorzelanny's final spring start, Maddux was in the dugout, and he talked to the lefty between innings.
"If I made a mistake, he'd look at me, and I'd say, 'Yeah, I know,' " Gorzelanny said.
Should the Cubs have Maddux suited up for Gorzelanny's starts?
"I've got Larry," Gorzelanny said. "Larry's paved the way for a lot of this. [During] the small amount of time I was here last year, what Larry and I talked about was almost like a light going on. The way [Rothschild] went about explaining things was a lot easier than some of the ways before. He just simplified it. He said, 'You know what you have, you know what you can do, so just do it. Don't try to nitpick.' "
Gorzelanny, acquired last July from the Pirates, said he didn't want to pester Rothschild too much or "he'd wring my neck." So he bounced some things off Maddux this spring.
"This is the ideal situation for me, being on this team and being with Larry and having Greg come around every now and then," Gorzelanny said. "It's perfect."
Carlos Silva feels the same way. The right-hander has one of Maddux's No. 31 Cubs jerseys framed in his home, and it was there well before he joined the team in a December trade. Maddux's number is one of six retired by the Cubs.
"This Spring Training for me is very special," Silva said during camp. "To have Greg Maddux around, he's my guy. ... I was asking him the other day, 'How can I throw a backdoor sinker to a lefty?' It's unbelievable -- you ask him something, and the way he answers is ... wow."
"I think [Maddux] will pick up on whatever he wants to do in this game really quickly," said assistant general manager Randy Bush, who took Maddux on a scouting assignment this spring. "He likes watching guys, and he's really interested. And he has a good sense of humor watching games. He's a fun guy -- a lot of good one-liners."
What will Maddux's future in baseball be? His brother, Mike, is a pitching coach with the Rangers, but he is still deciding. He will travel to the Cubs' Minor League camps this summer, spend time with the big league team and do some scouting.
"Where he's more valuable for me is ... I put so much pressure on myself on succeeding and doing the right thing," pitcher Randy Wells said. "He's good at keeping it loose and keeping it in a funny way.
"I remember one instance, I threw a pitch and I had a guy set up for a strikeout, and I chose the wrong pitch and got a ground ball. I came in, and he asked me, 'What were you doing there? Why didn't you throw a changeup there?' He's so smart. Sometimes I'll out-think myself. I'll think the hitter has got to be looking for it there, but so what?"
Thinking like a hitter is a big part of Maddux's approach.
"There's a saying that the best hitting coach in baseball ... is Greg Maddux, because he knows the hitters," Gorzelanny said.
Maddux also has helped the left-hander improve his video-watching technique.
"I never had a guy show me what to look for and what stands out with hitters and how they approach a pitch or at-bat," Gorzelanny said. "When I got over here, I started out with Larry, and he helped me a lot. Greg's made it more simple to watch film and look at guys and say, 'What does this show you? What does this tell you?' It's been beneficial."
"[Maddux] is real big on how the hitter tells you what to throw on the next pitch by how he took the pitch or how he swung at a pitch," Bush said. "Sometimes when a pitcher threw a pitch, [Maddux] would say he wasn't committed to that pitch and didn't throw that one with conviction and that's why he got the result he did. You have to be committed to what you're throwing. It's nice to hear that perspective."
"Throwing with conviction" is a key Maddux phrase.
"It just means believe in it and have a purpose instead of just throwing stuff up there for the heck of it," Wells said.
One thing Maddux still has to get used to is a scout's perspective. While watching Minor League games, he preferred to sit in the dugout. Being in the stands is foreign to him.
"He was more comfortable [in the dugout]," Bush said. "He told me [that when he was scouting this spring], it was the first time he sat in the stands and watched a baseball game since he was 10 years old."
"When Greg's on your team, you're better in any role," GM Jim Hendry said. "He's got a great way about him, and he's the most successful, non-promoting person I've ever met. We can all learn from Greg."
When told that he had made an impact on the Cubs pitchers this spring, Maddux shrugged.
"I haven't done nothing for them," Maddux said.
Oh, yes, he has.
"In every sense of the word, he's someone I aspire to be," Wells said. "It's just how he's so personable and knowledgeable and doesn't try to force it on you. It's almost like he breathes excellence. It's pretty cool and pretty special having him around."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.