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As we speculated, the “move” from short relief to long relief is just a stop along the way of returning Carlos Zambrano to the Chicago Cubs’ rotation. No timetable on the return, but it will come as soon as Zambrano gets his arm strength and stamina back up.

“We’ll put him back in his usual habitat, and that’s starting baseball games and we’ll go from there,” manager Lou Piniella said on Tuesday of Zambrano, who was the Cubs’ Opening Day starter. “I just don’t know how long it’ll take, and I told Carlos to be honest with me and let me know when he’s ready.”

How eager is Zambrano to start again? On Tuesday, he was taking batting practice with the other Cubs starting pitchers.

Zambrano moved to the setup role on April 22 after going 1-2 with a 7.45 ERA in four starts. The team needed a right-handed setup pitcher to bridge the gap to closer Carlos Marmol and also had to make room in the rotation at that time for Ted Lilly, who was activated from the disabled list.

But now, after eight relief appearances and a 6.23 ERA, Big Z will be used in long relief until he’s built up enough stamina and arm strength to return to starting.

“‘Z’ gave it a good shot,” Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said. “I think when he went to the ‘pen with the one-inning-type potential, I think we all thought that when somebody goes from starter to the ‘pen, they pick up juice and you get the one inning, let’s go blow-it-by-people [approach]. We thought he was the right candidate for it.”

But Zambrano’s velocity didn’t pick up, and in his last couple of relief outings, he’s had trouble warming up quickly. His last short outing was on Friday against the Pittsburgh Pirates, and he gave up three runs on four hits in one inning and took the loss.

“It’s no secret that for the last year, year and a half, he’s not throwing as hard,” Hendry said. “We thought [moving to the bullpen] might — short term — pick up his velocity, too.” cubs.com.

We can only hope that Zambrano is effective in his return to the rotation. And by we, I mean Lou Piniella and Jim Hendry. Of course, even if Z is effective, the two will still get grief about removing a guy like Z from the rotation in the first place.

It’s a class no-win situation, but it’s a situation that they created from whole cloth. It was a terrible decision when it was made, and it remained a terrible decision when it was unmade.

And to suggest that the reason Zambrano to the bullpen failed was because “he just couldn’t pick up his velocity” is a slap right across Zambrano’s crazy face. That last statement by Hendry is as throw-under-the-bus as it gets nowadays with carefully worded statements to the media and all.

The whole damn thing just stinks.

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