When we last saw Carlos Zambrano during the regular season, the fiery Chicago Cubs pitcher gave up five home runs to the Atlanta Braves, was ejected, cleaned out his locker, and told the Cubs he was retiring. Though he later apologized to the Cubs, the damage was done, and Big Z was eventually shipped to the Marlins for pitcher Chris Volstad and cash.
In his final season with Chicago, Zambrano finished 9-7 with a 4.82 ERA over 145.2 innings. For the first time in a full season in the majors, Zambrano allowed more hits than innings. Over one quarter of the home runs he gave up for the season came in that messy final start against Atlanta.
Now with the Miami Marlins, Zambrano is focused on delivering for his new team. Pegged for the back end of the Marlins rotation, many believe the change in scenery will help Zambrano refocus in 2012. Looming free agency in 2013 ought to provide a little motivation as well. Zambrano is definitely not worrying about what happened last August.
In his first Grapefruit League start last week, Zambrano gave up 3 runs on 3 hits, and 3 walks in 1 1/3 innings against the Mets. Not a great outing, but Zambrano wasn’t too concerned about it.
After the ineffective Spring Training outing for the Marlins, Zambrano told USA Today he wasn’t thinking about his rocky ending with the Cubs:
"“I don’t pay attention to that. I just pay attention that I’m in a new team. They love me here and I want to be here.”"
Big Z was much better in his second start, striking out five while allowing only one earned run on two hits, and one walk in four innings. It is this kind of performance from the #4 or 5 starter that could make a big difference in the Marlins’ fortunes this season. There are bound to be the rocky starts popping up during the season, but fans are hoping Miami manager Ozzie Guillen will be able to keep Zambrano’s focus on getting batters out.
Zambrano is only one year removed from a solid 11-6, 3.33 ERA season. The Marlins are hoping that he can deliver that kind of showing in 2012, and Zambrano has plenty of incentive. In addition to looming free agency and a new contract in 2013, Zambrano has a clause in his contract that gives him a $100,000 bonus if he wins Comeback Player of the Year in 2012.
From 2003-2008, Zambrano averaged 210 innings. He has dropped to an average of 148 innings in the three seasons since 2009. The Marlins may not expect him to be the workhorse that he had been at the start of his career, but it isn’t unreasonable to expect that the new environment, new manager, and a little less pressure at the back end of the rotation could help Big Z squeeze out 170 innings.
As for Volstad, Zambrano’s counterpart in the Cubs-Marlins deal? He is having a pretty nifty Spring so far in his new Chicago uniform – no runs allowed on three hits in six total innings, striking out four.
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