Depending on who you talk to and what outing they have seen, there are two very different ideas on where Carlos Zambrano’s arm is at this spring. Opinion is varied on the new Miami Marlins’ pitcher, who has mixed in a few brilliant stints on the mound with some erratic performances.
Supporters might point to a two start stretch earlier in the month where Zambrano went eight innings, surrendered only two runs, walked just a pair, and accumulated 13 strikeouts. Others better recall the former Cub’s two most recent less successful trips to hill, in which he allowed five runs and walked nine in 8.1 innings.
While the results indicate a Jekyll & Hyde spring, Zambrano is not concerned with his struggles.
“Spring training is to work on what you have to work on,” said Zambrano. “The season separates the men from the boys. Once you see the whole team playing behind you, it’s different. I’ve felt good. The most important thing is I have been throwing hard and throwing really good sinkers.”
Many in baseball are looking to see if Zambrano pitches effectively after a 2011 season in which the righty posted his first above 4.00 ERA since his rookie year. Not only did he have his worst campaign as a pro, it also ended suddenly on August 12th when he was ejected for throwing inside twice at Atlanta’s Chipper Jones.
Following the incident, Zambrano cleaned out his Cubs locker and claimed he was retiring. Even after a subsequent apology, he would not pitch the remainder of the season.
Now, granted a fresh start, there is strong emotion from Zambrano when he talks about returning to the game he loves and showing the form that made him a three-time all-star.
“I will be there,” said Zambrano. “I’m not anxious. I just want to do my job. Doing my job will prove that I’m back this year and hopefully we can talk at the end of the season.”
The man who is giving him his shot at redemption is good friend and fellow Venezuelan, new Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen. Guillen has already done quite a bit to shake up the organizational culture in Miami and bring a winning attitude.
Adding a reclamation project to the roster in Zambrano, while holding him accountable is just an extension of that.
“He was a little wild, a little overanxious, but that will happen,” said Guillen about his last start against Houston. “We have a plan for him. Sometimes I think his emotion overtakes his aggressive side, but we have a plan for that. We are going to let him pitch and get ready for the season.”
Monday’s exhibition game against the Yankees at the new Marlins stadium will give Zambrano one more opportunity to prepare. His first start for Miami should come April 8th in Cincinnati.
In his final tune-up for the regular season, Zambrano will be looking to work deeper into the game, but also knows what he wants to do to hone his craft.
“The biggest thing I have to work on is throwing first pitch strikes,” said Zambrano. “I have to attack the strike zone. The walks have been killing me in spring training. Things will be different during the season.”
While slated behind Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, and Ricky Nolasco in this new-look Marlins rotation, Zambrano might be the key to success. If he can get back to the things that made him an ace in Chicago, a division title would be within reach.
First and foremost, Zambrano will feed off of the confidence his manager has in him. Many across the big leagues have lauded Guillen as the one skipper most likely to get his countryman going again and keep his emotions in check.
Those sharing that opinion might be on to something because Zambrano could not be happier embarking on 2012 with his new teammates and their leader.
“Ozzie is one of the smarter guys that I have ever met and he is a good manager,” said Zambrano. “He gives you confidence and if you play right for him, have his back, he will be there for you. We have a good ball club. We have everything to win. It is up to us to perform good and to make it happen.”