Zambrano fitting in well with new teammates

Zambrano fitting in well with new teammates

JUPITER, Fla. -- With each passing day, Carlos Zambrano is being warmly embraced by his new team.

Marlins closer Heath Bell makes sure of that. Since the start of Spring Training, Bell has opened each day by giving Zambrano a hug.

"Why not?" Bell said. "I'm a lovable guy. I think he's having a blast here."

After a mercurial career previously with the Cubs, Zambrano is happy to be fitting into the revamped Miami clubhouse.

"Heath Bell. This guy is a funny guy," Zambrano said. "This guy is real cool."

Bell and Zambrano were two major offseason acquisitions. It didn't take long for them to hit it off.

On the mound, Zambrano made additional strides toward fitting in on Tuesday in the Marlins' 2-2 tie with the Braves at Roger Dean Stadium.

In his second Grapefruit League outing, Zambrano gave up one run on two hits in four innings while striking out five.

The right-hander was perfect for three innings, retiring four of the first nine batters via the K.

"Much better, compared to the last time," Zambrano said. "All of my pitches. I thank God that I'm back with kind of the form I had in the days when I used to be really good. I was very pleased with the outing."

In his first spring start, Zambrano gave up three runs in 1 1/3 innings against the Mets. He struck out four, but he also walked three.

A big difference on Tuesday was Zambrano's ability to finish off hitters. Credit his slider and better fastball command.

"When you feel the ball is coming out of your hand strong, you can finish hitters," Zambrano said. "My slider was much, much better. That was the key today, and my fastball."

Zambrano used a slider to strike out Dan Uggla in the fourth inning.

The Marlins pushed hard to acquire Zambrano from the Cubs for Chris Volstad in early January at the urging of manager Ozzie Guillen.

Zambrano and Anibal Sanchez, who will make his Grapefruit League debut on Wednesday against the Rays in Port Charlotte, Fla., will round out the rotation. Who goes fourth and fifth has yet to be announced.

The Marlins still see Zambrano as a high-ceiling starter, one who should benefit by a change of scenery.

"You just need a fresh start," said Bell, who signed a three-year deal with the Marlins in November. "That's all it is, I think. Leave all that behind him. What can you do for the Marlins right now? What can Carlos Zambrano do for the Marlins?

"That's all it boils down to. What have you done this year? Not what have you done in the past. The past is the past. I still think he's got it. I think the Marlins still think he has it. That's why he's here. I believe Ozzie still thinks he has it."

Guillen certainly was pleased with how Zambrano threw the ball on Tuesday.

In terms of delivering the ball, Zambrano was fine. What caught Guillen's attention was the right-hander's tempo with runners on base.

"He threw the ball really well," Guillen said. "I don't know if it's me. But I think he got a little anxious when he got people on base. I'm going to address that.

"To me, it seems like every time he gets someone on base, he speeds up a little bit. It should be backwards. It's something to monitor. I've seen it the last couple of years."

Atlanta's lone run off Zambrano came on Brian McCann's RBI single in the fourth inning.

Zambrano and Guillen have been close friends for years. And now the right-hander is finding a comfort zone pitching for Guillen and the Marlins.

"I feel good here. I feel in peace," Zambrano said. "I feel stronger. I'm working harder. When you work hard and you see the result, and you have a team like this, it makes you want to do better."

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.