A few weeks ago, when Lou Piniella made the decision to send Carlos Zambrano(notes) to the Cubs bullpen, everyone knew the move could — and very likely would — result in friction and discord, with the potential for violent conflict.
We're talking about a volatile manager, a volatile player, and an indefensible use of talent. The mixture should be highly unstable. On Wednesday, it began to smoke just a little.
Zambrano entered the Cubs-Marlins game in the eighth inning, his team leading by two runs and the heart of Florida's lineup due to hit. Gaby Sanchez(notes) battled after falling behind 1-2, but he was eventually retired on a flyout to center. Hanley Ramirez(notes) fouled off a series of high strikes, then was caught looking at a sinker. A nice start to the inning, all things considered.
But then Jorge Cantu(notes) stepped to the plate with two outs and managed to draw a walk. As you'll note in the Gameday screen grab over on the right, it can be reasonably argued that Zambrano threw at least six strikes in the seven-pitch at-bat.
There was then a mound visit after the walk, followed by a broken-bat single to center from Dan Uggla(notes) … and with that, Lou had seen enough. Carlos Marmol(notes) got the call for a four-out save opportunity.
Let's pick up the game action/simmering hostility via the Chicago Sun-Times…
Zambrano snatched the ball angrily when thrown back to him after the hit and didn't look at Piniella as he left the field. He was unavailable after the game.
''I wanted Zambrano to basically, hopefully, get the last outs in the eighth inning,'' Piniella said.
Zambrano surely felt that he could get the final out of the eighth, since he was throwing well and the catcher was due up. In the photo above, you'll see the no-look pitching change. Marmol eventually struck out pinch-hitter John Baker(notes) (who's 2-for-9 in his career against Big Z), then navigated the ninth inning successfully, though not cleanly.
Bottom line: In the three weeks that Zambrano has been in the Cubs 'pen, he's pitched 7.2 innings and earned two holds. Ted Lilly(notes), meanwhile, looks like a guy who needed a bit more rehab work; he's 1-3 with an ERA of 4.88 and an 85-mph fastball.
Zambrano generally says the right things about his shift to the set-up role, and he showed laudable restraint on Wednesday. He's still owned in 51 percent of Yahoo! fantasy leagues, presumably by owners who assume he'll return to the rotation fairly soon. But we caution you not to expect logical decisions from the Cubs. The team reportedly isn't actively trying to deal for anyone right now, so don't assume that a classically trained relief pitcher is on the way. And Big Z isn't anywhere close to bumping Marmol from the ninth inning; Piniella reinforced that fact on Wednesday.
If you're still hanging onto Zambrano, let's hear your expectations and/or your league settings in comments. In a format where holds matter, he's clearly great. The SP-eligibility is a serious benefit. But if you're in a standard mixed 5x5 format … well, it's awfully tough to wait out this nonsense. If you've bought low or sold low, give us the details. Talk it out. Commiserate. Take a fresh plate and visit the buffet.
Photo via Getty Images