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Carlos Zambrano seems to have changed; teammates vouch for him

Former White Sox left-hander Mark Buehrle says ex-Cubs righty Carlos Zambrano (above) has been one best teammates he has ever

Former White Sox left-hander Mark Buehrle says ex-Cubs righty Carlos Zambrano (above) has been one of the best teammates he has ever played with. | Charles Rex Arbogast~AP

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Updated: August 19, 2012 6:36AM



Did you see Carlos Zambrano sweating for a half-hour as he did his pregame running, under Tuesday’s equatorial heat, along the baked warning track at Wrigley Field?

Have you ever seen such a sight?

No worries. Thanks to the ever-present camera crew from the so-called reality TV series, ‘‘The Franchise,’’ you can catch it next Wednesday on Showtime.

The only reason you won’t catch his lengthy session in the Wrigley weight room is because the cameras followed him only into the tunnel, then backed up to the field again to await his return.

And then they followed him until he held a long, contrite, pleasant back-and-forth with Chicago media — during which the words ‘‘we stinks’’ never were uttered.

The former Cubs pitcher and symbol for a club culture deemed in need of change did take a moment as he returned to Wrigley with his Miami Marlins to tell a beat writer he was still ugly and needed a haircut, but even that was said with a smile.

But it was as if this was some kind of triumphant return for Zambrano, who won’t even pitch in the series. As if nothing had ever happened.

As if this wasn’t the scene of the crime(s).

Zambrano publicly apologized to the fans for what went wrong the last two years, said good things about former teammates and blamed himself for forcing the Cubs to send him and most of the money on the final year of his contract to the Marlins for current minor-league pitcher Chris Volstad.

But more than one member of the team watching from the dugout wondered how much of Big Z’s big day at his old ballpark was for the cameras.

The bigger question: How much of the whole, new, reformed Zambrano is Showtime? How much Ozzie Guillen, his pal and new manager? How much the fact he carries no burden as a frontline starter? How much the famed recuperative powers of a change of scenery?

Whatever it is, Zambrano is either the new man — the new teammate — he claimed he had become every spring for at least his last five years with the Cubs or he has everybody in South Florida fooled.

‘‘Zambrano has been one of the best teammates I’ve ever played with,’’ said former White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle, who had a front-row seat for some of Z’s Chicago lowlights, including the 2010 shouting match with Derrek Lee that got him an anger-management suspension.

‘‘From the rumors you hear with the Cubs, he’s the complete opposite. I don’t know if he’s changed or what, but he’s been great.’’

When Miami’s combustible closer, Heath Bell, was costing Zambrano what seemed like a win per week early in the season, Bell approached Zambrano after one of the blown saves, and Zambrano stopped him before he could apologize.

‘‘Don’t worry,’’ a calm Zambrano told him. ‘‘There’ll be times you pick me up. The important thing is we won the game.’’

Zambrano, who has embraced Guillen and Miami, said the real change has been: ‘‘My relationship with the Lord.’’

And during a recent start, when he was miked for the TV series, the show’s producers were surprised to hear humming and singing from Zambrano while on the mound, apparently Christian music.

‘‘I wasn’t privy to the audio,’’ Marlins baseball operations president Larry Beinfest said. ‘‘But you can tell he’s really worked on it. I don’t know if that’s a mental exercise that he’s going through. But you see him smiling on the field and enjoying himself, and maybe that’s just part of the program that he’s kind of put in place to keep himself on center and on track.’’

Whatever it is, the Marlins are sold.

Beinfest, who said he knew the risks and went in ‘‘with eyes open,’’ also reiterated what many in the clubhouse say: that Zambrano (5-7, 4.22 ERA) has been the model citizen and teammate that the Cubs only saw away from the field.

Beinfest said he might even consider re-signing Zambrano to another contract once the five-year, $91.5 million deal that became Jim Hendry’s albatross expires.

‘‘I wouldn’t rule anything out,’’ Beinfest said. ‘‘In terms of a teammate and doing everything that we’ve asked him to do, he’s been great. So there’d be no red flags at all there.

‘‘There’s obviously a business component to anything, but I wouldn’t rule it out because of anything [about] his performance or his makeup or the way he’s conducted himself. It’s been outstanding.’’



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