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Controversy following Cubs’ Carlos Zambrano

Updated: October 22, 2011 12:15AM

Before anybody asks, Carlos Zambrano didn’t aggravate his back injury by throwing out the first pitch at that softball game Thursday.

‘‘What’s the problem with that?’’ he said of the manufactured outcry over the long-scheduled charity
appearance a few hours after he left his start in the second inning Thursday. ‘‘It wasn’t that I was in a wheelchair or I wasn’t able to walk anymore.’’

No, the bigger problem for him and the Cubs is that he can’t pitch for a while, especially after getting an epidural Friday. That’s why the Cubs put him on the disabled list through the All-Star break. He won’t be eligible to pitch again until July 16, the Saturday after the break.

‘‘I’m not OK with it,’’ he said. ‘‘I want to have a nice, clear season this year. Any time I go on the DL makes me angry. But I know the Cubs are doing it to protect me. I appreciate that, too.’’

The Cubs are calling the injury lower-back soreness, and general manager Jim Hendry said it’s the same balky-back issue Zambrano has worked through in recent years.

But Zambrano, who has felt ‘‘kind of weird’’ for the last two weeks, said the pain is different this time and is located lower in the back.

‘‘I’ve never had this before,’’ he said, raising at least the possibility it might not subside as quickly or as easily as it has in the past.

Not that an especially quick
return figures to be critical to a pennant run. And it’s not like he or the Cubs seem particularly concerned about the severity of the injury. In fact, Zambrano said he doesn’t even know what the doctor’s diagnosis was.

‘‘I didn’t pay attention because it’s hard for me to go on the DL,’’ he said. ‘‘Sometimes your doctor is talking to you, and it’s like when your wife’s talking to you. .  .  . You’re like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.’ .  .  . I was just thinking about, ‘For sure they’re going to put me on the DL. For sure they’re going to put me on the DL.’  ’’

At the very least, anybody still holding out hope that the Cubs might try to trade Zambrano by the July 31 deadline can forget about it.

And the more important issue
becomes getting him strong again as the team tries to identify its pitching core for next season.

Meanwhile, even on the day the Cubs got reliever Kerry Wood back from the DL, Zambrano became the 11th player from the Opening Day roster to spend time on it. He’s the fourth member of the opening rotation to go on the DL.

‘‘It’s really not a major thing,’’ Hendry said. ‘‘He could probably — almost for certain — pitch before the break, probably Friday in Pittsburgh at the latest. But to rush him out there for one more [start] when you think he’d be 100 percent but [are] not positive made no sense. .  .  . Nobody’s concerned about long term or surgery.’’

The Cubs plan to bring up veteran right-hander Ramon Ortiz, 38, from Class AAA Iowa to pitch in Zambrano’s spot Tuesday. Ortiz, whom the Cubs signed as a minor-league free agent in April, hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since May of last season. He was 1-2 with a 6.30 ERA in 16 games, including two starts, with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2010.

As for Zambrano’s appearance at the Chicago Bandits softball game Thursday, none of his bosses all the way up the ladder had any problem with it.

‘‘Honestly, it’s one of the biggest to-dos about nothing in his long history,’’ Hendry said. ‘‘We certainly have all had turns at being disgruntled at Carlos at times, and he would be the first to admit a lot of that’s rightfully so. But this is just much to-do about nothing. I find it almost sad that this would be a big story in a negative way.’’

‘‘I didn’t pitch nine innings,’’ Zambrano said. ‘‘Just one single pitch, nice and easy. My arm didn’t get hurt, my back stayed the same, I supported that team and people were happy I was there after I gave my word that I would be there.’’

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