Big Z makes some bold predictions

Big Z makes bold predictions

MESA, Ariz. -- Carlos Zambrano said he could've gone nine innings instead of just two in his first Cactus League start Friday. He also made two predictions.

"I believe this year, I can win the Cy Young," Zambrano said, "and besides that, we will win the World Series. I guarantee that. I have faith in that."

So, you'll win the Cy Young and the Cubs will win the World Series in 2007?

"Right. I'm saying that," Zambrano said. "I'm almost sure about that.

Wait -- almost sure?

"I say, almost sure," he said. "I promise I will do the best I can. I feel good this year, better than the last five years. I will work on that."

Zambrano finished fifth in the Cy Young voting last season, and was able to rally despite a winless April. The right-hander got off to a quick start on Friday against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim when he struck out the first two batters he faced, then got Vladimir Guerrero to ground out on the first pitch.

Zambrano can be a little animated on the mound. Is that OK with Cubs manager Lou Piniella?

"You've got an emotional manager, for God's sake," Piniella said. "Sure, I like an emotional pitcher. I like having emotional players on my team. Why not? You can't have 25 Stepford Wives. What you want are basically a combination of different personalities on the team."

What's different this spring is Zambrano can focus solely on the Cubs, and not be concerned with Team Venezuela. He pitched in the World Baseball Classic last year, and admits it was a distraction.

"It's good to prepare for the season and be in one place and be with your teammates," he said. "That's good for me. It's all about being mentally prepared and physically prepared and being ready for the season."

Zambrano was ready Friday. He gave up one hit over two innings and fanned four of the seven batters he faced.

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"If they let me go nine [innings], I'd go nine," he said. "I was ready for that. I'm ready to go seven, eight, nine innings. I'm ready. I worked hard in the offseason to get to this point."

The only downside to Friday's game, a 9-6 loss to the Angels, was that he didn't get a chance to bat. Zambrano was on deck to hit in the second inning, but Angel Pagan flew out to right to end the inning. Zambrano and home plate umpire Jim Joyce exchanged a few words.

"He said to me, 'Almost -- it was close for you to hit,'" Zambrano said.

"I'll tell you this, there's no way I was going to pinch-hit for him," Piniella said. "He had a bat. I said, 'Do you want to hit?' He said, 'Yes.'

"He told me today, 'One of my dreams is to play the outfield for a couple innings in a Major League game,'" Piniella said.

That will likely stay a dream. However, the Cubs manager isn't opposed to using Zambrano as a pinch-hitter. The right-hander tied a club record with six home runs last season, and has a career .212 average. He won a Silver Slugger Award in 2006.

The Cubs would prefer to have Zambrano focus on improving on his 16-7 record of one year ago. The right-hander, who will start Opening Day for the Cubs, does like his new skipper.

"At some point in the season, we may have some argument or something," Zambrano said. "I know he will tell me something hard. I'm prepared for that. I like the kind of person like Lou is. People like him, like [former Cubs pitching coach] Oscar Acosta, people like those guys, I like to have on my team. That gets me going.

"I'm not going to fight with him, I guarantee you that," Zambrano said. "Over the years, I'm changing. I'm more relaxed, more calm. I just go out there to pitch my game."

"He can get into it as long as he wins 18, 20 ballgames and pitches 220 innings, it's fine with me," Piniella said. "He's a fun guy. He wears his emotions on his sleeve a lot. He's a character."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.