The Carlos Zambrano to the bullpen experiment has always been regarded as just that: an experiment. But how long will it last? Presumably, the move is not permanent, but if none of the other starting pitchers starts struggling mightily, how long could Zambrano stick in the pen?
Chicago Cubs manager Lou Piniella has implied that it could be a long time.
Still, the idea of switching Zambrano from starting, which he has done since June 2002, and making him the setup man is a little radical.
“What are we supposed to do? Put the burden every day on four young kids?” Piniella said of relievers James Russell, Justin Berg, Jeff Gray, and Jeff Samardzija, who was optioned to Triple-A Iowa on Saturday. “Is it fair to them? Is it fair to us?
“I’m trying to win baseball games here,” he said. “The new owner wants to win baseball games here. You’ve seen what happens here the first two weeks of the season, and that wasn’t going to change overnight.”…
“You have to bring young pitchers along the right way,” Piniella said. “You throw them into the fire and they don’t respond the right way, you’ll get more adversity than success. I like these kids who are here — I’ve said that coming out of Spring Training. But not in a 2-2 ballgame in the eighth inning or a 2-1 ballgame in the eighth inning. It’s not going to work.
“It could work six weeks from now if they’re brought along the right way,” he said. “Right now, it’s expecting too much. It’s like bringing a kid up from the Minor Leagues and having him hit fourth and bringing up another kid and having him hit fifth. You’re not going to get the consistency that those positions demand.” cubs.com.
If I’m reading that right, I see Piniella saying that he’s unlikely to feel confident enough to allow the “young pitchers” to throw in close and late situations. As long as that’s the case, it sounds like Zambrano will be necessary in that role – or, at least six weeks. And that’s assuming the young guys come along sufficiently in that time to instill more confidence in Piniella.
I think it’s more likely that, in that time, one of the other starting pitchers gets hurt or implodes, and Piniella is forced to put Zambrano back in the rotation.