Zambrano’s goal: Put struggles behind


MESA, Ariz. (AP) — Antsy with a new season approaching, Carlos Zambrano wants nothing more than to be in a different place.

Considering where he was last year, the Chicago Cubs probably wouldn’t mind.

Big Z is ready to move on after two trips to the disabled list, an angry outburst at an umpire that led to a six-game suspension and an offseason of trade rumors despite his no-trade clause. That means forgetting about last season and helping the Cubs contend again after missing the playoffs.

So when Zambrano said “I just want to get out of here,” he meant Arizona, not Chicago. He said he’s excited about what lies ahead and is ready to show again why he has a five-year, $91.5 million contract.

“God gave me good ability to pitch in the big leagues,” Zambrano said. “It’s up to me. It’s up to me to trust it and believe in what I am capable to do.”

With a career 105-68 record and 3.51 ERA, Zambrano’s talent isn’t in question.

His mindset is.

And if the Cubs are going to contend again after one of their most disappointing seasons, they’ll need him to re-establish himself as an ace.

Zambrano went 9-7 with a 3.77 ERA last season while the team with World Series aspirations fell to 83-78 after back-to-back NL Central titles. There were multiple reasons for that, including injuries to key players such as Aramis Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano’s season-long struggles.

A strained hamstring and then a back problem sent Zambrano to the disabled list twice for the first time in his career, and when he was able to pitch, he at times came unglued.

Like that incident against Pittsburgh in May.

Always emotional, Zambrano went to cover home after a wild pitch and erupted when umpire Mark Carlson ruled Nyjer Morgan safe at the plate. He jumped up, argued and got ejected after he nudged Carlson. Then, Zambrano gave him the ejection sign and kept going, firing a ball into left field, tossing his glove and taking a bat to a drink dispenser before heading to the clubhouse.

The result was a suspension and more angst among fans who were already on edge. They point to the big contract he signed in August 2007, the fact that he’s never won 20 games and never captured a Cy Young Award, along with his history of losing his cool.

“If he … fine-tunes all that stuff, you’re looking at a beast that’s going to be a force to be reckoned with,” pitcher Randy Wells said.

The emotions, he said, are the result of a desire and competitiveness that is “unlike any other person I’ve ever met.” Wells also said Zambrano deserved the big contract.

“You’re not going to go out and win 20, 22 games every year,” Wells said. “It’s kind of hard to predict a Cy Young Award winner because there are guys that come out and try to do the same thing. … That’s unfair expectations on the guy. For people to put the expectations on him, and then when he doesn’t live up to them to hold him accountable is kind of unfair. I think what you’ve got to look at is your desire, your passion, your competitiveness, your preparation.”

Zambrano isn’t ruling any of it out.

“I still have three more years — or four more years (including a vesting option) — on my contract,” he said. “You never know what can happen in those three or four years.”

What happened last season wasn’t good, and with the trade rumors circulating, the 28-year-old Zambrano acknowledged he considered moving because they were upsetting his daughter. Instead, he spent the offseason in Chicago because his three children are in school and dropped about 15 pounds, putting him at 260.

“He’s worked hard,” manager Lou Piniella said. “That’s exactly what he’s aiming to do. He’s thrown the ball well this spring, and there’s no reason why he can’t do just that.”