Cubs to send Zambrano to bullpen
Lilly's imminent return from DL sparks club's decision
NEW YORK -- The Cubs have found a new setup pitcher in Carlos Zambrano.
Manager Lou Piniella said Wednesday that the Cubs' Opening Day starter will move from the rotation to the bullpen, beginning Friday, to add experience there and make room for the return of Ted Lilly.
With the switch, the Cubs' rotation will be Lilly, Ryan Dempster, Randy Wells, Tom Gorzelanny and Carlos Silva. The bullpen entered Wednesday's game with a 1-6 record and 6.15 ERA, second worst in the National League. Zambrano, who gave up two runs over six innings Tuesday in a start against the New York Mets, will now be the main right-handed bridge to closer Carlos Marmol.
"We'll have a Carlos setup guy and a Carlos closer," Piniella said.
Zambrano and Piniella met in the visiting manager's office Wednesday at Citi Field.
"I talked to Carlos [Zambrano] today and told him we really needed him in the bullpen, and that we felt he could do a nice job for us," Piniella said. "He said he'd do what's best for the team. I'm very appreciative. He talked about maturing [this year]. This proves it to me."
When Zambrano, 28, came up to the big leagues in 2002, he was used in relief in the first half of the season. He has not pitched in relief since then.
"Lou called me into the office today and asked me if I wanted to go to the bullpen and help this team in the seventh and eighth innings," Zambrano said. "I said, 'Whatever you want me to do, I'm here for this team and I'm here to help this team. If you want me to go to the bullpen, I'll go. If you want to keep me in the rotation, I will.'"
The move is temporary, Piniella said. Zambrano, who is 1-2 with a 7.45 ERA in four starts, has already set his sights on starting in the postseason.
"I told Lou I want to help this team until you find somebody," Zambrano said. "I told him I want to be back for the playoffs. If we go to the playoffs, I want to go back to the rotation."
So, he will start again this year?
"Like [Arnold] Schwarzenegger says, I will be back," Zambrano said.
This isn't something Zambrano welcomes.
"I don't like to be a reliever," he said. "I don't want to be a reliever. This team needs somebody to step up and help the bullpen.
"If they ask [Alfonso] Soriano to move to second base or any other position, if Soriano wants to do it and thinks this team needs it, he'll do it," Zambrano said. "He likes to help this team, too."
The Cubs' relief corps is young and general manager Jim Hendry has been looking for some help since the offseason, but he has not found a willing trade partner.
"We're trying to stabilize things and win some baseball games," Piniella said. "This will give Jim and the front office more opportunities to do something. ... We're fortunate in that we get Lilly back over the weekend. The rest of our starting pitchers are throwing well. What we need really is to bolster our bullpen and give us a chance to get to Marmol with a little more regularity. The Big Z has agreed to do this."
Lilly is returning from arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder and made his final Minor League tuneup Monday in Peoria, Ill., when he threw 88 pitches over seven innings for the Class A team. The left-hander is slated to start Saturday in Milwaukee.
The Cubs had to make room for Lilly. Wells is coming off a stellar rookie season and is 1-0 with a 2.45 ERA in three starts. Dempster has been solid, compiling a 1-0 record and 3.15 ERA. The Cubs didn't want four lefties in the 'pen, which eliminated Gorzelanny. They didn't want to test Silva's right shoulder, either, in a relief role. The veteran was 1-0 with a 0.69 ERA in two starts heading into Wednesday's game against the New York Mets.
"The guy we focused on was Zambrano because of his stuff, because of his experience, because of his durability," Piniella said. "Let me tell you this, I talked to him and this was something he is willing to do. If he wasn't willing to do it, then we would've had to keep exploring."
Zambrano, who has hit 20 career homers, most in franchise history for a pitcher, will lose his at-bats.
"We can double switch," Piniella said.
"That's not my job," Zambrano said about hitting. "My job is not to hit a home run here. My job is to pitch in any situation."
The move was not done because of Zambrano's performance as a starter.
"Absolutely not," Piniella said. "On Opening Day, he struggled some [in a 16-5 loss to Milwaukee], but his starts have been good. Look at [Tuesday vs. the Mets] -- two-run ball in six innings of work. You can't fault that."
Whatever it takes, Zambrano said.
"I just want to get a ring and help this team," he said. "If this is the situation, I'm here for the team."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.