Cubs counting on Jaramillo to get hitters turned around

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Highly touted hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo, who signed with the Cubs this winter, gets to work early each day at Fitch Park in Mesa, Ariz.

      Highly touted hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo, who signed with the Cubs this winter, gets to work early each day at Fitch Park in Mesa, Ariz. Bruce Miles | Daily Herald Staff

 
 
Updated 3/22/2010 10:47 AM

What happens when high-priced players don't perform up to expectations?

If you're the Cubs, you go out and hire a high-priced coach.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

That was part of the plan this off-season after the offense took a major step backward.

The Cubs went through two hitting coaches last year: Gerald Perry and Von Joshua.

In October, they hired Rudy Jaramillo, who tutored Texas Rangers hitters for 15 seasons.

Bringing in a hitting coach with such ballyhoo isn't unprecedented. The White Sox made big headlines in the 1980s with their hire of Charlie Lau, who had gained fame by helping George Brett on Brett's way to a Hall of Fame career with the Kansas City Royals.

Jaramillo is one part of the coaching picture. Here is how it all takes shape:

Will Jaramillo help? He seems to be off to a good start in spring training, with Cubs hitters already talking about how much he's helping.

Former Cubs favorite Mark DeRosa still talks about how Jaramillo breathed new life into DeRosa's career at Texas.

Current left fielder Alfonso Soriano enjoyed two productive seasons with Jaramillo in Texas. Jaramillo is bilingual, and that can only help if a player feels more comfortable conversing in Spanish.

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In the end, it's up to the player to perform, but hitting coaches become valuable when they can spot trends and habits (good or bad) and get their pupils to make adjustments.

Does he really work that hard? Reporters in the early days of spring training considered it an accomplishment to beat Jaramillo to the park.

The only way to do that was to get there by about 7:15 a.m.

By 8, Jaramillo already was in the cage or on the field with his charges.

What about the pitching? Don't look now, but Larry Rothschild is entering his ninth straight season as Cubs pitching coach. Around the game, it's difficult to find a more respected guy in his position.

Rothschild has worked under Don Baylor, Bruce Kimm, Dusty Baker and now Lou Piniella, who wanted Rothschild retained when he came to the Cubs after the 2006 season.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Having survived the years of constant medical updates concerning Kerry Wood and Mark Prior, Rothschild has a relatively healthy staff this year, even as lefty Ted Lilly rehabs his shoulder.

What are Rothschild's strengths? He's good at spotting mechanical flaws and trying to fix them. Of course, old habits die hard in many cases, so no fix is a quick one.

Last fall, Rothschild worked with right-hander Jeff Samardzija for a week after the season ended to smooth out mechanics. Cubs people were amazed at how Samardzija looked this spring.

Can he get through to Carlos Zambrano? Psychologist also is part of the job description, and Rothschild has his hands full with Zambrano.

Remember, however, Zambrano went from a rawboned rookie in 2002 to winning more than 100 games under Rothschild.

Down in the pen: Lester Strode, a longtime pitching coach in the Cubs system, is the bullpen coach. He provides Rothschild with a second set of eyes and gets the relievers prepared.

On the bases: The Cubs made a change this year, putting Ivan DeJesus at first base and moving Matt Sinatro into the role of special assistant to Piniella. DeJesus is a former infielder whom the Cubs believe can help the baserunning game while Sinatro can focus on overall game preparation and working with the catchers.

Mike Quade, a graduate of Prospect High School, had a solid season at third base last year. It's a good thing when reporters don't ask to interview the third-base coach after a game. Quade wasn't much in demand last year. As part of his duties, he also works with the outfielders.

On the bench: Alan Trammell still looks comfortable with his shortstop glove after a stellar career with the Tigers.

Trammell, who may manage again someday, organizes spring-training workouts and other things for Piniella. Watching him coach around the second-base bag during workouts is like attending a clinic. Reporters eagerly await Trammell's posting of the lineup on the clubhouse wall each day.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

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