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All things Carlos Zambrano and the bullpen have reached obsessive status. And the saga is taking another almost unbelievable turn. I say “almost” unbelievable, because I would have thought moving Zambrano to the bullpen in the first place would have been as close to unbelievable as things could get.

“We’re going to change Zambrano’s role,” Piniella said after the Cubs topped the Rockies, 4-2, in 11 innings. “We’re going to start stretching him out a little bit and gain some stamina and arm strength, and we’ll leave it at that.”…

When asked whether the switch meant Zambrano was returning to the rotation, Piniella clarified his statement.

“I didn’t say ‘rotation,’” Piniella said. “I said we’re going to change his role in the bullpen.”

The change means the Cubs will rely on lefty Sean Marshall as the prime setup pitcher for Carlos Marmol.

Zambrano talked to Piniella and pitching coach Larry Rothschild about the change before Monday’s game.

“[Piniella] told me today there may be a chance to go back to the rotation,” Zambrano said. “We’ll see how everything works in the next few outings for me.”

Zambrano wasn’t happy about going from starter to reliever but accepted the switch.

“I’m happy,” he said. “As long as this team is happy, I’m happy for this team. Like I said, whatever this team wants me to do, I’ll do. This is a business. They’re the boss. If the boss wants me to go close games, I’ll close games. If the boss wants me to start games, I’ll start games. It’s their choice.”

The Cubs are 11-13 since Zambrano moved to the bullpen, and they have won four of the eight games in which he’s pitched in relief. In four starts, he was 1-2 with a 7.45 ERA. On Friday, he was the losing pitcher against the Pirates, giving up three runs on four hits over one inning.

“I had to get used to that role — it’s not that easy,” Zambrano said about being the setup man. “The guys out there [in the bullpen], they’re used to that. I tried my best, I tried to do my best as setup man. So far, I only had trouble with one game and that was the game against Pittsburgh. I think I did a pretty decent job. I think I did a good job as a setup man.” cubs.com.

No, Carlos. You didn’t. If your 6.23 ERA as a reliever were not confirmation enough, this move is.

There is simply no polite way to say it: moving Carlos Zambrano to the bullpen has been an unmitigated disaster. Lou Piniella is conceding his bone-headed move, and Carlos Zambrano is being stretched out for a return to the rotation.

No one has quite admitted this is the case, but it must be true given that any of the starting pitchers could be a “long reliever,” and while Zambrano may have been the best choice among them to become a right-handed setup man, surely he’s not the first choice as long reliever.

So what does that mean for the future of the rotation? Here’s hoping it means the Cubs plan to cash in on the early success of Carlos Silva (or Tom Gorzelanny) and make a trade.

  • jstraw

    “[Piniella] told me today there may be a chance to go back to the rotation,” Zambrano said. “We’ll see how everything works in the next few outings for me.”

    Think about that. The implication could be that Zambrano wasn’t simply sent to to the set-up role when the team desperately needed his help there but that he was removed from the rotation because he was pitching badly. This sounds like the set-up thing failed and now Z needs to be stretched out to come back to the rotation and he can…if he earns a spot there…at $18 million.

    Now keep in mind that Lou’s not a very smart man. That Lou gets panicky and makes reactionary moves (and *statements*) based on whatever’s in his head at the moment…because after all….look, we’re trying to win ballgames here. So any explanation given for for anything, at any moment, may or may not be meaningful.

    So if we decide that we can’t really on anything he says as an indication of what’s actually going on, here’s what I hope is the correct interpretation:

    There IS a deal in the works for Gorz or Silva…and Z HAS TO get back into the rotation…so he MUST BE stretched out.

    • Bric

      In a sane, logical world that would make perfect sense. Unfortunately this is the Cubs world which usually makes NO sense. Hendry says he’s looking at deals and other teams seem to be getting into ealry trade mode so it’s possible Gorz may have a new team (Braves? Marlins?) but Lou’s comments and actions these days are more indicitive of Alzheimer’s than a manager trying to solve pitching issues. Remember a few weeks ago when Kaplan said big news was coming at 3 o’clock? We all thought the Cubs had gotten Heath Bell. The news was Zambrano was going to the bullpen. THAT was the big news…

  • jstraw

    I truly think we’re at the “Mom, is there something the matter with uncle Terry?” stage with Lou.

  • ed

    Quite obviously the solution to this problem is a trade. I’m not sure anybody wants Hendry, but with a little creativity we could make it happen.

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