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Just yesterday, Chicago Cubs manager Lou Piniella remarked that he was not concerned “at all” about pitcher Carlos Zambrano’s back. A few hours later, Zambrano was scratched from him start, and a few hours after that, the Cubs decided Zambrano needed an MRI.

Sigh.

“He went out there to warm up, and he says after he threw two or three pitches that his back tightened up and he started getting spasms,” manager Lou Piniella said after the game. “He’s going to be sent home tomorrow and given a MRI. I guess we can go on those results.”

Zambrano was already back at the hotel by the time the game ended, and the report Piniella got from the trainer was that “he’s in discomfort.” cubs.com.

Hopefully the MRI reveals nothing serious, and treatment will be successful. As I noted when Zambrano was removed from his start last week, these back problems tend to linger, as we saw repeatedly with Kerry Wood.

Even if Zambrano’s back is not seriously damaged, the Cubs may very well put him on the disabled list so that they can get another arm up. His stint would be back-dated to August 2, so he’d be eligible to return in just nine days.

The Cubs would have a lot of options to fill Zambrano’s spot in the rotation: Sean Marshall and Jeff Samardzija make sense if they can be stretched out. If the Cubs want to dip down into AAA, they could go with Mitch Atkins or JR Mathes. Or… if they believed Ted Lilly’s pleas that he’s feeling great, maybe they try to get him back just a few days early.

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