09/30/2003 8:48 PM ET
Fiery Zambrano to go in Game 2
Emotional righty tries to ignite Cubs against Braves
ATLANTA -- Before catcher Damian Miller squats down
behind the plate for the first pitch of one of Carlos
Zambrano's games, he'll give the home plate umpire a
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
Zambrano, the Chicago Cubs' 22-year-old right-hander,
can get a little emotional on the mound. He'll shout,
scream, wave his arms, yell and pound himself on the
chest after pitches.
"I say, 'This guy gets ... ' -- and they'll say 'We
know,'" said Miller, who doesn't have to finish his
sentence. "It's not directed toward (the umpires). It's
just Carlos being Carlos."
The animated Zambrano will be on center stage
Wednesday when he starts Game 2 of the NL Division Series for
the Cubs against the Atlanta Braves.
Zambrano's only start against the Braves this year was
July 13, the last game of the first half of the
season. He gave up seven runs on eight hits over five-plus
innings. The sixth inning was his downfall as he failed
to retire the first five hitters he faced, and took
But Zambrano (13-11, 3.11 ERA) is a different pitcher.
The right-hander comes in riding a 7-3, 2.51 ERA mark
in the second half. He has three complete games in the
second half, and has served up nine home runs over 214
innings, the lowest -- and best -- ratio in the
"I'm going to sound like I'm an older guy," Cubs'
23-year-old pitcher Mark Prior said, "but it's been fun to
watch him grow this year and the way he's transformed
himself all year. I think he's by far one of the best
pitchers in the game right now."
A lower back strain forced him to seek treatment in
Chicago during the team's last road trip but he says
he's fine. His career-high 214 innings aren't a concern,
Cubs pitching coach Larry Rothschild said.
"This is a guy who's played winter ball and he pitched
10 months out of the year," Rothschild said. "You get
a second wind now."
"I'm 22 years old," Zambrano said. "I don't know how
one guy 22 years old is done for the year when they
have only 200 and some innings. I consider myself a big
guy. I work hard. I'm still throwing 95, 96 (mph)."
In his last start Sept. 19 against Pittsburgh,
Zambrano gave up nine runs -- six earned -- on eight hits
over 4 2/3 innings. It was uncharacteristic of what he
had done in the second half. He blamed himself.
"I had too many walks and that killed me," said
Zambrano, who walked three. "I will do the job next time and
be ahead in the count next time.
"I'm not a machine. I'm human," he said. "Anybody can
throw a bad game."
He's also exhausting for Miller, who has to be both
catcher and shrink, monitoring the young pitcher's mood
"He's one of a kind," Miller said. "You have to pick
your spots with him -- I'm still learning with him.
Then you have to consider he's only 22 years old. That's
one thing -- I don't want to say he has to work on it
-- but next year he needs to try to be emotionally
still on the mound. Not still. Less emotional."
Zambrano can get pretty wild. He is a very religious
young man, looking skyward for guidance as he heads
back into the dugout.
"He talks to himself even when he's by himself," Cubs
manager Dusty Baker said.
"I'm yelling at myself," Zambrano said. "When I'm
ahead in the count and I throw the ball the way I want, I
don't have that kind of emotion on the mound. When I
throw too many balls, I try talk to myself and I'm
relaxed. That's why sometimes I appreciate when Dusty
comes out there and (Rothschild), they calm me down."
"I think it's misconstrued," Rothschild said. "Often
he's reacting to himself not making a pitch. Everybody
thinks it's the umpire but it really isn't. There are
times he's over-reacted but most of the times, it's
because he's mad at himself."
What will the Cubs do? Probably nothing.
"I'm not going to give him Valium before he pitches,"
What has made Zambrano so good this second half is
simply the experience. He's learning by doing.
"I think it's really a maturation process as much as
anything," Rothschild said. "He got the opportunity to
be on the mound and settle in and realize his stuff is
good enough to get anybody out in any time and any
"When he did get in trouble, he managed to get out of
it a lot with ground balls because he has a hard
sinker," Rothschild said. "That's something he should be
able to do throughout his career. I think it was just
being on the mound, understanding and repeating
deliveries more. I think he found his personality as a
Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not
subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its