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Ozzie Guillen vows not to let Carlos Zambrano get out of control

Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen said he’s Carlos Zambrano’s friend off field not it. | Wilfredo Lee~AP

Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen said he’s Carlos Zambrano’s friend off the field, not on it. | Wilfredo Lee~AP

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Updated: March 23, 2012 8:24AM

JUPITER, Fla. — Carlos Zambrano’s Spanish nickname is “El Toro’’ — The Bull — and it’s perfect. The idea of an angry animal kicking the dirt, steam coming out of its nostrils — that’s Zambrano, isn’t it? Hell, that’s Zambrano upon learning they’re out of coffee creamer in the clubhouse.

Manager Ozzie Guillen, late of the White Sox, now of the Marlins, won’t pretend that his friend, countryman and new pitcher is something he’s not. He won’t try to make Zambrano out to be a teddy bear. But he would like to push the imagery in the direction of the feline section of the zoo.

This came up in anticipation of Zambrano’s first meeting with the media in spring training, scheduled for Wednesday. Guillen knows that Zambrano will talk about being a changed man because that’s what Zambrano always talked about when he showed up for spring training with the Cubs. He would promise to be calmer, nicer, more friendly. And several months later, a Gatorade dispenser or a teammate would find out first-hand or fist-hand that he was an unchanged man.

Guillen is convinced it never should’ve gotten to the point where Big Z bubbled over. Somebody with the Cubs should’ve been monitoring him, he said. Somebody should’ve known Zambrano, known the signs, known that he needed set boundaries, preferably metal ones.

“Maybe it’s not his fault,’’ Guillen said. “Maybe it’s somebody’s fault. Maybe they let that tiger leave the cage and couldn’t bring him back. That tiger is not going to leave the cage. I guarantee you he is not leaving the cage. I guarantee you that. As soon as he tries to open the cage, I’ll be waiting for his ass.’’

Making a guarantee that Zambrano won’t escape his prison and leap, teeth first, at the latest version of Michael Barrett or Derrek Lee or Chipper Jones is like guaranteeing world peace.

“I never had any problem about [players] going all crazy,’’ Guillen said. “… We never had problems in the clubhouse. I throw a lot of people under the bus. We never had any problems. They know why. I don’t see any problem with Carlos.

“Do I want him to get [ticked off]? Of course, I do. But take it easy, tiger. Like I say, in Venezuela, there’s the bull and the goddamned matador. He will be dead in two seconds because I know how to kill the bull at the right time.’’

There are two ways to look at this, neither of which has anything to do with how quickly Guillen just traded the tiger imagery for the bull imagery:

† Guillen is the only person who can harness all that emotion in Zambrano and bring out his best.

† Good luck with that.

“It’s going to be a fun season for him,’’ Guillen said. “I talked to him a lot. We spent the last five days together, almost every day, all day. He can’t wait to pitch for the Marlins. He can’t wait to show people how good he can be.

“Win or lose, he can’t control that. The attitude and the stuff are going to be there. There are a lot of dinner bets out there. He’ll be fine. People have a pool in Venezuela to see what day we’re going to fight. I’m not going to fight with him. I don’t want to get my butt kicked. But I will fight.’’

Should a manager and a player be friends? It doesn’t happen often in the big leagues, but it happens with Guillen. When Zambrano erupted at Lee in the Cubs’ dugout in 2010, he went out to dinner that night with Guillen, then the Sox’ skipper.

When the Guillens and the Zambranos went out to dinner a few nights ago, Guillen’s wife, Ibis, told Carlos to look at her as a friend, not as the manager’s spouse.

Doesn’t that change the player-manager dynamic?

“He’s my friend off the field,’’ Guillen said. “On the field and in the clubhouse, as long as Zambrano has got the Marlins uniform on, he’s my player, he’s not my friend. I don’t see any problem. Sometimes friends screw you more than the ones you don’t like. But I don’t expect that to happen.’’

Guillen said he doesn’t expect Zambrano to throw at an opposing hitter without reason, but we Chicagoans will prefer to wait for something resembling proof.

Light smoke wafted through the Marlins’ spring-training facility Tuesday. It was an electrical issue of some sort, not a Big Z issue. But Wednesday’s another day.

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