Zambrano Moving Again, Back To Rotation: Cubs' Third Win In A Row Overshadowed By Z Controversy

Solid pitching and good hitting up and down the lineup (RBI last night from Kosuke Fukudome, Tyler Colvin, Starlin Castro and Ryan Theriot) brought the Cubs a 6-2 win over the Rockies and a sweep of their mini-series before a late-night flight to Philadelphia. Ensuring that nobody from the team would speak at any postgame news conference last night, the game ran nearly as long (3:16) as Monday's 11-inning affair (3:18) and the team bus was parked on Waveland outside the left field bleachers as early as the fourth inning.

As I noted earlier, all MLB teams are playing a pair of two-game series from Monday to Thursday this week. Only seven teams swept the first of these sets: Rays, Rangers, Athletics, Cardinals, Reds, Dodgers... and the Cubs. Three in a row is only a good beginning, and continuing it will be tough against the Phillies -- but the Phillies only managed to split their pair with the Pirates, and lost last night even with Roy Halladay throwing a complete game.

Yes, I know you want to talk about Carlos Zambrano, and I've got my own thoughts, but how about a few notes on last night's win? Carlos Silva again threw well, making only two mistakes: walking Troy Tulowitzki (his only walk of the night) and then giving up a homer to the next batter, Todd Helton. Other than that, he recorded 11 of his 18 outs on ground balls (including a pair of double plays) and threw an efficient 85 pitches in running his record to 5-0. Of his eight starts, six are good-to-excellent and the other two qualify as "mediocre", not "bad". Sean Marshall threw an inning of good setup relief before you-know-who finished.

And, the offense produced when it had to; Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez didn't do much -- and Lee, who was called out on strikes twice, didn't seem to much care for minor league replacement umpire Todd Tichenor -- but the rest of the team, noted above, picked up the slack. Nice work especially by Tyler Colvin, who had three hits and raised his average to .300, and Ryan Theriot, whose two-run single in the eighth sat Carlos Marmol down when the save opportunity vanished with the 6-2 score.

And that brings us to the Z discussion. Z had gotten up in the eighth inning with the score 3-2 and the tying run on base, but sat down again when it appeared there would be that save op for Marmol. When the score got to 6-2, Marmol sat down and Z got ready. He appeared to be a man on a mission, throwing nine strikes in 14 pitches and striking out two, including Ian Stewart to end the game.

Which makes the announcement by Lou last night that Z would return to the rotation even more curious. The cubs.com article linked there was posted just before game time, and includes this:

To get Zambrano ready, he will be used in long relief and could pitch a simulated game on Monday, which is an off-day for the Cubs. He met with pitching coach Larry Rothschild and Piniella on Monday and started his comeback program at that time, which is why he wasn't available in relief for that game. However, if needed, Zambrano could pitch on Tuesday.

"I said [moving Zambrano to the 'pen] wasn't going to be permanent when we did it," Piniella said. "Let's see how long he needs. We'd like to get him two or three appearances out of the bullpen stretched out."

This is... well, I don't even know where to begin. Obviously, the "if needed" part of that quote did actually happen. And "long relief"? When was the last time you ever saw Lou use a pitcher in "long relief"? Even when starters get knocked out early -- like Z did on Opening Day, for example -- Lou doesn't use pitchers in "long relief". Sean Marshall threw 2.2 innings in that game, the "longest" any reliever went, and only because he was efficient, throwing 37 pitches. Z can go through that in one inning. When Randy Wells got knocked out after two innings on May 6 in Pittsburgh -- same thing. No reliever threw more than two innings.

I realize that Z can be left in to bat for himself if he's inserted for "long relief", but is this what the manager and general manager want? They're actually hoping for pitchers to get knocked out early so they can stretch out Z? What is this, spring training? I thought the Cubs were in the business of winning games.

I thought the Z-to-the-pen experiment was worth trying. It was, as management admitted, a failure. For those of you screaming that it was wrong at the time -- it could have worked, but didn't. I agree that it was a failure.

So now they're going to compound the failure with this cockamamie scheme of "long relief"? Here's the right idea, from Z himself:

"[Piniella and I] had a long conversation with the pitching coach," Zambrano said. "They're trying to put me back in the rotation.

"Whatever they want me to do, I'll do it. If they want to send me to the minor leagues to work, I'll work in the minor leagues. If they want me to work here, I'll work here. The thing is, I haven't thrown in a game for more than 65 pitches as a starting pitcher since three weeks ago. Obviously, I'm not a machine and I need to build my arm again."

That's the way to do it. Send him to Iowa, or Peoria. Let him throw four innings once, five innings the next time, then six, then recall him. It's not as if he needs more than that -- it hasn't been years since he started, just a month. Treat it like an injured pitcher on a rehab assignment. And use those couple of weeks to try to make a trade; otherwise, it would appear Justin Berg is headed back to Iowa and Tom Gorzelanny to the bullpen.

There appears to be a subtext to the Z drama that we don't know and may never know, despite the denials from the front office. Whatever that is, it really doesn't matter now that they've reversed course. Do the right thing and "stretch Z out" in the minor leagues, not sit and wait for your starters to blow games so that Z can be used in "long relief", for which preparation is different from starting anyway.

On to Philadelphia. Let's keep the winning going and not need any "long relief".

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