Starting over, Zambrano wins for his nephew

Starting over, Zambrano wins for his nephew
August 25, 2010, 1:44 am
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Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2010
10:55 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

WASHINGTON For all their differences, Carlos Zambrano and Lou Piniella have this in commonboth are emotional men who value the importance of family.

Zambrano spoke with his brother on Tuesday and left the Cubs that night to travel back home to Venezuela to visit his 11-year-old nephew, who was hospitalized and placed in intensive care with whats believed to be a bacterial infection.

He told me to dedicate that game to his son, Zambrano said. In the first inning I was thinking about him. And I was throwing all the pitches saying: This is for my nephew.

With all that weighing on his mind, Zambrano went out and dominated the Washington Nationals in a 5-4 victory. And in a way the enigmatic pitcher is starting over, playing for a new manager and with a group of new teammates.

Maybe you are struggling with how to pronounce Mike Quades last name, or you cant tell one rookie reliever apart from another.

But there were still two familiar sights on Tuesday night at Nationals Park, Zambrano raising his head and pointing to the sky, and Alfonso Soriano lingering near home plate, admiring his three-run homer as it soared into the left-field seats.

Combined Zambrano and Soriano will make almost 36 million this season, enough to bankroll an entire 25-man roster for a small-market team. They will not fade easily into the background, and not just because they have no-trade clauses and approximately 108 million remaining on their contracts.

Soriano bounces around the clubhouse with a constant smile. Zambrano declined to comment after Piniella announced that Sunday would be his final game in uniform. They are two of the most recognizable faces left in this franchise.

For all the talk about developing young players for 2011, Quade has stressed that he needs the veterans to carry the Cubs (53-74) through to the end of this season. Zambrano is 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA in his four starts since returning to the rotation.

Well take that fresh start and just run with it for the next six weeks, Quade said.

After limiting the Nationals (53-73) to one run across 7 13 innings, Zambrano has the same outlook.

Q (is more) hyper than Lou, Zambrano said. He has more energy, but we need to do our job anyway, either being with Lou or Q or (Alan) Trammell. (We) need to play for our team.

Soriano can get hot and carry a team, and he now has hit at least 20 homers in nine consecutive seasons. Even if hes a flawed player, hes in elite company. Only four other players are on similar runs: Alex Rodriguez (15 seasons); Albert Pujols (10); Adam Dunn (nine); and David Ortiz (nine).

Zambrano (5-6, 4.64) hasnt produced like an elite pitcher, but feels like he is improving each time out, building from one start to the next. Last week against the San Diego Padres he walked six batters and struck out one. This time he finished with eight strikeouts and only one walk.

If Zambrano remains a Cub, whoever the manager is next season will want to cultivate a relationship with him. Piniella reached breaking points with Zambrano, and it helped lead to his suspension and time on the restricted list.

Lou was very special to me. He was honest, Zambrano said. Any time he had to say something to me, he said it. He wasnt afraid.

When he calls somebody into the office, it doesnt matterthat guy could be making 18 million. (He) knows how to speak. He didnt say much, but when he spoke, he knew what to say. He knew how to come to you and say the proper words.

In the same interview, Zambrano can be dismissive and engaging with the media. He began to answer two separate questions Tuesday night with: What do you think? Yes, he thinks hes getting better, and that he would have been in a groove if he remained in the rotation the entire season.

Zambrano described his bullpen experiment this way: We got too desperate too soon. He then reflected on his nephew, and vowed to make his next start, likely Monday at Wrigley Field.

Its pretty sad, Zambrano said. He is in bad condition (and) I will be with my family for a few days and come back to work.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.