Pitchers and catchers report to Mesa, Arizona in 10 days, but that doesn’t stop them from showing up early if they’re so inclined.

And Carlos Zambrano is so inclined. And I am so inclined to say that is so awesome.

“We did it quietly,” general manager Jim Hendry said. “I don’t think he wanted any publicity for that. He’s going about his business well. I think you’re going to get a very well-focused guy who’s determined to rectify last year’s season.”

With Ted Lilly out until May, the onus will be on Zambrano and Ryan Dempster to get off to good starts and stay healthy, keeping the front end of the rotation afloat until Lilly returns. Zambrano stuck to his offseason workout routines, and the Cubs believe he’s committed to staying in shape.

“Carlos was a little heavy last year, there’s no question,” manager Lou Piniella told fans at the Cubs Convention. “He’s another player (besides Geovany Soto) we had a nice conversation with toward the end of the year.

“We said, ‘Look, we need for you to step up and give us 200-plus innings. We need for you to win 18-20 ballgames, the way you’re fully capable of. But to do that, you have to get yourself in better shape, where we don’t have to worry about pitch counts with you.’ ”

Piniella said Zambrano “promised” he would be in better shape and more focused.

“He looks absolutely wonderful, and I think you’ll see a heck of a better performance from him just because of that,” Piniella said. “The mental part of it? He’s mentally strong. He fights himself at times. He needs to harness that a little bit. But you want competitors on the mound, and Carlos certainly competes.” chicagotribune.com.

We’ve been hearing all offseason that Zambrano was in perhaps the best shape of his career, but to hear that he is also kicking it in gear this early probably proves it. Health is always the wild card, but clearly Carlos Zambrano is committed to dominating this year. If he can just keep it fit between the ears, he might just do it.

The status of his upper lip for this Spring Training – recall that Zambrano showed up last year looking like a mustachioed mix of Zorro and Ron Jeremy – has yet to be reported.



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