Zambrano extends string of quality starts

Zambrano extends string of quality starts

MIAMI -- Carlos Zambrano is enjoying his offseason move to the Marlins, and his performance on the mound is reflecting that.

Zambrano entered the season as the fourth starter in the Marlins' rotation, but through seven starts, the guy who manager Ozzie Guillen described as the biggest question mark on the staff entering the season is making a case as the team's strongest starter. In Sunday's 8-4 win against the Mets, Zambrano turned in another stellar performance.

"I'm just having fun," Zambrano said. "I'm enjoying my time here in Miami, and it's everything I was looking for."

Zambrano pitched seven innings and gave up just two runs, only one of which was earned, while striking out seven and walking three on the afternoon. The outing marked the third straight start Zambrano has pitched at least seven innings, and it came on the heels of a three-hit shutout of the Astros in his previous start.

"I don't want to say he's back to the top of his game, but very close to that," Guillen said. "He's showing people he can still pitch."

Despite earning a no-decision against the Mets, Zambrano lowered his rotation-best ERA to 1.88. He set the tempo early with a 10-pitch first inning that included two strikeouts and saw the righty locate eight of the 10 offerings in the strike zone. Of the 27 batters he faced, Zambrano threw first-pitch strikes to 20 of them.

Zambrano cruised through three innings, facing 10 batters, but he gave up three singles in the fourth inning, which led to two runs and snapped his string of scoreless innings at 19.

Kirk Nieuwenhuis and David Wright singled to open the inning. They advanced to second and third on John Buck's passed ball. Lucas Duda's groundout to second put the Mets on the board, and Murphy delivered an RBI single.

But Zambrano, who Guillen pushed hard for in the offseason, worked around that inning to turn in his sixth straight quality start, making the Marlins' decision to acquire him from the Cubs for righty Chris Volstad on Jan. 4 seem like arguably their best offseason move.

"If I say I had to do a lot to get Carlos here, I have my opinion and my opinion is very strong," Guillen said. "But I don't have to pay Carlos. [Marlins president of baseball operations] Larry [Beinfest] is the one who has to make those deals. And [Marlins owner] Jeffrey [Loria] and those front-office people.

"Carlos wanted to pitch for us. Carlos told me a long time ago, if you ever go to the Marlins, make sure you mention my name. I think it's been working for both sides -- it's working for him and it's working for us."