Carlos Zambrano fires ‘brushback’ pitch at Ozzie Guillen
By STEVEN WINE AP Sports Writer February 22, 2012 3:28PM
Miami Marlins pitcher Carlos Zambrano throws a bullpen session during spring training baseball Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2012, in Jupiter, Fla. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Updated: February 22, 2012 4:02PM
JUPITER, Fla. — Carlos Zambrano waited until the end of his throwing session Wednesday to try out a brushback pitch on Ozzie Guillen.
The Miami Marlins’ manager was leaning on a bat near home plate, watching Zambrano work, when a fastball came whizzing his direction. Guillen let out a yelp and dodged the pitch with a frantic skip.
“He was in my way,” Zambrano said. “No, I’m just kidding.”
“That’s the last time he throws at somebody,” Guillen said with a laugh.
Probably not. Zambrano wore out his welcome with the Chicago Cubs because of a combative personality, so there are likely more brushbacks to come. The Marlins are counting on it.
“It’s going to be a fun season for Carlos,” said Guillen, a fellow Venezuelan and the biggest reason Zambrano landed with Miami. “He can’t wait to show people how good he can be. Is Carlos going to be mad? Of course. I want him to be mad. It was too much, too long the last couple of years, but I want him to be himself.”
Zambrano had a series of run-ins with teammates, management and umpires before his 11-year Cubs career ended last August when he was ejected from a game, cleaned out his locker, talked about retiring and was suspended without pay.
He subsequently apologized, and did so again Wednesday.
“In my mind and my heart I just wanted to help the club and do good for them,” Zambrano said. “The fans deserve a championship in Chicago. Hopefully they can get it soon. They were outstanding for me, and I appreciate that. I have nothing but thanks for everybody in Chicago, but I have to move forward and help this team win a championship.”
To do so, Zambrano must harness his emotions. Anger management classes in Chicago didn’t help.
Can he keep his cool in sweltering Miami?
“Wait to see,” he said.
There was a lot for Zambrano to get upset about last season, the worst of his career. His velocity dropped and his ERA soared to 4.82, his highest by nearly a run. The three-time All-Star gave up more than one hit per inning for the first time, and he went 9-7 in 24 starts.
Last month, Zambrano became part of the Marlins’ makeover when they acquired him for right-hander Chris Volstad. It was a low-risk deal for Miami, which will pay only $2.55 million of Zambrano’s $18 million salary.
Longtime friend Guillen, the Marlins’ new manager, encouraged the trade.
“We really took Ozzie’s lead,” president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest said. “It was an opportunity to bring in a veteran who knows the league. This guy competes and wants to win.”
No one doubts that. Losing tore up Zambrano; as a result, he tore up the Cubs’ clubhouse.
Now he’s with a team that expects to give the Phillies and Braves a run for the NL East title.
“We have everything,” Zambrano said. “Pitching, good bullpen, speedy team, power team, good manager. It’s up to us.”
A winning environment might help Zambrano turn things around, and he’s already getting plenty of TLC. Closer Heath Bell, another Marlins newcomer, greeted the big right-hander with a hug when they first met last week.
“He hasn’t stopped smiling since I’ve seen him,” Bell said. “I told him every day I’m going to give him a hug. And he said, ‘Every day I’m going to smile.’ And I said, ‘All right, this is a beautiful friendship.’
“If he was in Chicago, everybody is going to know about the things he did in the past. We don’t care. We care about what he’s done in 2012. It’s a fresh start for him, and I think he’s going to embrace it.”
For the opening camp workout, Zambrano was among the first players on the field, showing the eagerness of a rookie. Three hours later he peeled off a soaked shirt, still huffing after running wind sprints.
He said he was pleased with his throwing session.
“I was throwing a lot of strikes,” he said. “My body felt good. I’m in good shape.”
There’s some wear on his right arm, because Zambrano has pitched more than 1,800 innings. But he’s only 30, and scouts were encouraged by his velocity when he threw in the winter league.
The Marlins don’t need for him to pitch like an ace. He joins a rotation that includes four-time All-Star Mark Buehrle, former NL ERA champion Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco and Anibal Sanchez.
But Zambrano could fill the role of No. 5 starter nicely. In fact, at 6-foot-5 and 270 pounds, he could become the game’s most imposing No. 5 starter.
His brushback pitch is ready to go.