Carlos Zambrano is officially back in the Cubs' starting rotation. And whether the 11 starts he figures to get over the final two months winds up being his final 11 as a Cub, the embattled right-hander says he's relishing the assignment with newfound perspective.
``Sometimes you don't know what you have until you lose it,'' said Zambrano, who on Monday in San Francisco makes his first start since airing out teammates at U.S. Cellular Field on June 25 - earning a suspension and month-long restricted-list exile for anger management.
``When you lose it, you realize that you had something good - in your career, in your life. And I don't want to lose this opportunity. ... Look, I just want to pitch here and just want to be happy here, in Chicago. And I just want people to be happy, and the way to do that is pitch good.''
Zambrano is 3-6 with a 5.71 ERA this season - 3-5, 6.12 in nine starts.
After throwing 53 pitches in a relief appearance Sunday manager Lou Piniella said Zambrano will be on a limit of about 75-80 Monday.
After that his effectiveness over the next two months could go a long way toward helping the Cubs build a market for a possible off-season trade of their six-time Opening Day starter and the $40 million left on his contract at that point.
Zambrano, whose fastball was in the mid-90s during two relief appearances since his return, has a full no-trade clause but said over the weekend in Colorado that he would waive it if the Cubs asked. That doesn't mean he wants to leave, he reiterated today.
``I came with a mission, and I never quit,'' he said. ``For me to be traded is like quitting. And I love this city. I think this city deserves to watch a game in the World Series. This city deserves, these fans deserve, to celebrate a championship with us. That is what I'm here for.''
And he said he returns from this latest turmoil a changed man that he plans to translate into a changed pitcher as well.
``It's time to do some work, man, believe me,'' he said after getting the news today of his return to starting. ``I've been hard on myself, and I've been dedicated this last month to come back and be the best again, be one of the top [pitchers] in the National League.''