Cubs move ace Zambrano to bullpen
Manager Lou Piniella is tired of watching his relievers blow games for the Chicago Cubs, and, boy, is he ready to do something about it.
Piniella made a bold move Wednesday, inserting temperamental ace Carlos Zambrano into a shaky bullpen that threatened to derail Chicago's season.
"You look at these box scores every day around baseball and these games, especially in the National League, they're won in the sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth innings," said Piniella, in his fourth season as the Cubs' manager. "There are few blowouts early. There's some obviously but not [a lot].
"Look, this makes all the sense in the world."
Chicago's bullpen was 1-6 with a 6.15 earned-run average and three saves in seven opportunities heading into Wednesday night's game against the New York Mets. The Arizona Diamondbacks and Kansas City Royals were the only teams with a higher bullpen ERA.
Piniella also has another starter ready to go with all-star right-hander Ted Lilly expected to come off the disabled list this weekend, probably on Saturday at Milwaukee.
"I understand the situation," Zambrano said. "I understand that we need a little, little help in the bullpen. Look, we already lost three or four games in the eighth inning or in relief."
The burly right-hander said Piniella told him the move was temporary and general manager Jim Hendry was trying to acquire a setup man through a trade. He also was confident he would return to the rotation this year.
"I don't like to be a reliever," Zambrano said. "I don't want to be a reliever but this team needs somebody to step up and help out the bullpen."
Zambrano struck out nine over six effective innings in Chicago's 4-0 loss to the Mets on Wednesday night. He is 1-2 with a 7.45 earned-run average in four starts this year but his numbers are skewed by a rough outing on opening day.
He is in the third season of a $91.5-million US, five-year contract extension that he agreed to August 2007. The deal includes a 2013 option that could make it worth $110.75 million over six seasons.
"This is not my last year of my contract," said Zambrano, who will be available out of the bullpen beginning Friday. "I just want to get a ring. I just want to help this team and I think this is a situation, I'm here for the team."
Zambrano, listed at six-foot-five, 260 pounds, is 106-70 with a 3.56 ERA in 10 seasons but has made only 21 relief appearances in the majors and none since 2002.
He also can be volatile at times, including a memorable display last May when he threw a baseball into left field and took a bat to a dugout drink dispenser after he was ejected from a game against the Pirates.
The switch to the bullpen gives Piniella a pair of dynamic arms for the back end of games, along with closer Carlos Marmol.
"With Zambrano and Marmol, that's some firepower," the manager said.