Big Z back in the 'pen after apology to team
Zambrano ready to put past behind him and move on
DENVER -- Carlos Zambrano apologized to his teammates and Lou Piniella on Friday, saying he was embarrassed by his behavior and that it's time to move on.
The response was hugs from the Cubs players.
"I knew I had to come in front of my teammates to apologize," Zambrano said shortly after his meeting in the visitor's clubhouse at Coors Field. "I knew from the first moment, June 25, when I was upstairs [in the clubhouse at U.S. Cellular Field] thinking about it that I had to come to my teammates and say something.
"It was unacceptable and not good and embarrassing to the organization and myself and the fans," he said. "I apologize to the fans, too. I just want to move on and be at peace with everybody."
On June 25, Zambrano threw a tantrum in the dugout after giving up four runs in the first inning against the White Sox. He was sent home and suspended for three days before being placed on the restricted list. On Friday, he was activated and veteran Bob Howry was given his unconditional release to make room on the roster.
Zambrano did all the talking during the meeting.
"It was great," first baseman Derrek Lee said. "He did a good job. I'm sure it was hard to do and I'm glad it's over with. It's all over with and behind us."
"He explained what he did and apologized to the team," said Alfonso Soriano, who admitted Zambrano's tirade hasn't been something he's thought about much in the month since it happened.
Piniella met privately with Zambrano for 10-12 minutes.
"I thought he was very sincere with his talk in the clubhouse and very contrite," Piniella said. "He promised to be the best teammate he could possibly be and help us win as many games as he could. We welcome him back and he'll be in the bullpen starting tonight."
Piniella knows something about emotional players. He didn't hide his feelings when he played or managed.
"You can use that fire to your benefit," Piniella said, "but it has to be under control. There's nothing wrong with fire. Keep that fire but keep it in a controlled stage.
"I took it out on the water coolers," he said. "It was the water cooler's fault when I didn't deliver. I bought a few of them."
They didn't offer anger management treatment when Piniella played.
"So far, they've done a good job," Zambrano said of the doctors he's met with. "Obviously, I went there and I had to do it and it was good. The sessions have been a lot of exercises and very interesting."
Zambrano still has eight or nine more therapy sessions to undergo when he's back in Chicago.
"It's part of the deal to keep myself and my emotions [in control] and enjoy the game," Zambrano said.
The Cubs had hoped to have Zambrano return on the road to ease his transition back.
"I feel bad," Zambrano said. "I feel embarrassed and I feel bad about my conduct on June 25. I'm human and I know when I make a mistake. I know when I do things that are not right. ... I have to build my way back to what I was. I promised myself and promise to the Cubs' fans I will do anything possible to come back and be the same or better."
There have been rumors that the Cubs are trying to move Zambrano, the team's Opening Day starter who is 3-6 with a 5.66 ERA in 22 games.
"To play for the Cubs, believe me, is a privilege," he said. "Every player wants to play for the Cubs and be part of the Cubs. Once you play for the Cubs, you don't want to play for another team. I want to stay, but I understand this is a business and whatever the Cubs want me to do -- if they think I'm a problem here and they want to move me, it's sad, but I will move."
Right now, he has to work his way back into the rotation. This will be his second turn in the bullpen, and he made it clear he expects to start again.
"I'm a starting pitcher," Zambrano said. "I don't want to be in the bullpen. Obviously, if they decide to put me in the bullpen, I accept it."
"I see him as a starter, too," Piniella said. "He's a starting pitcher. I agree with him 100 percent."
As for that fateful incident, Zambrano said he was trying to fire up the Cubs after falling behind to the White Sox. Three of the White Sox runs that inning came on Carlos Quentin's three-run homer off an 0-2 pitch from Zambrano.
"I mixed some frustration for the first time in my career with trying to pump up my teammates," Zambrano said. "When I touched the bag and D-Lee threw me the ball, I thought it was the right way to say something. The frustration put some words that I never use and that I never say -- I don't like to say bad words. Sometimes I say them, but I don't like to curse. That day, it was bad. It was a moment of frustration. I just want to move on and forget about what happened."
While on the restricted list, Zambrano made three relief outings for Triple-A Iowa, giving up three runs on six hits and one walk over four innings and striking out four. His last appearance was Tuesday in Albuquerque when he threw 32 pitches in one inning.
Zambrano did give an interview with ESPN and said if the Cubs beat writers had shown up in Des Moines on July 22, he would've talked to them first. Instead, he did not meet with the media and was escorted out of the ballpark by two police officers after the game.
"I was ready to talk to the media in Iowa," he said. "They escorted me to the exit."
He said the Cubs told him they would prefer he not talk to the media before he talked to the players. Zambrano felt he had to do the ESPN interview because he wasn't happy about some critical stories in Chicago.
As for his dinner with White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen on June 25 after the incident, Zambrano said he had made the commitment to Guillen's wife, who works for Pepsi in Venezuela. Zambrano has represented the company for five years. He called it a business dinner.
"Imagine you have dinner with your boss and people you do business with and something happens in your job and your work, you still have to have the meeting because it's important," he said.
How will fans treat him when the Cubs return home to Wrigley Field Monday?
"They have the right to throw me in the trash or curse me," Zambrano said. "They have the right because they pay to see a good show. They're the fans and they like to see the Cubs do good. Obviously, I haven't performed as well."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.