Zambrano hoping to return to form

Carlos Zambrano took off his cap to show a standard and conservative haircut — no streaks and nothing fancy — that resembled the one he sported as a younger player.

MESA, Ariz. — Carlos Zambrano took off his cap to show a standard and conservative haircut — no streaks and nothing fancy — that resembled the one he sported as a younger player.

“I feel like a new guy. I feel like a rookie again. That’s why I have this haircut,” Zambrano said.

If Zambrano had a different look Thursday when the Chicago Cubs pitchers and catchers held their first workout, it was his trimmer physique. He estimates he’s lost between 12 and 15 pounds through a new diet and is down to 260 pounds on his six-foot-five frame. Zambrano plans to lose five more pounds and work with a nutritionist once the season starts.

After a disappointing 9-7 season a year ago that included two trips to the disabled list for hamstring and back issues, the emotional right-hander said he plans to keep his angry outbursts in check and his body healthy.

“Believe me. I think I passed that stage where everything gets me mad,” the 28-year-old Zambrano said. “That’s why you will see a Carlos Zambrano smiling and laughing with everybody.”

Zambrano spent his winter in Chicago but headed to Arizona at the beginning of February to get a head start on spring training.

“I am a proud guy and obviously I wasn’t proud of the season I had last year,” Zambrano said.

A tirade against an umpire in which he threw a baseball into the outfield and slammed his glove against the dugout fence led to a six-game suspension.

Zambrano acknowledged that the game, at times last season, stopped being fun.

“It was. It wasn’t,” he said. “I have fun. Some other ways I have frustration.”

And during the off-season he heard his name mentioned in trade rumours, even though he has a no-trade clause in the five-year, US$91.5 million deal he got in August of 2007. The worst part, he said, was how much the speculation upset his daughter.

“One time I told my daughter that we may move. It’s hard to see your kid crying,” Zambrano said. “Everybody was talking about trading, trading, trading. I thought it was coming for sure, but (general manager) Jim (Hendry) never mentioned anything to me.”

Zambrano revealed Thursday that he’s dropped the cutter from his pitching mix this season because he made too many mistakes with it last season. Entering 2010 with a 105-68 record and a 3.51 earned-run average over nine seasons, he’s fully aware that the Cubs’ success this season depends on him again becoming the staff ace.

“Carlos is serious this year. I think Carlos was embarrassed last year,” manager Lou Piniella said. “We need Carlos . . . There is no reason Zambrano can’t win 18 ball games or so.”

Lefty Ted Lilly, who’s being held back from throwing off the mound after off-season shoulder surgery, was expected to be examined by a doctor Thursday because he has a sore right knee. Lilly wasn’t sure if he would need an MRI, but it could be a setback for one of the Cubs’ most consistent starters over the last three years. Lilly is 44-26 over that span. He threw off flat ground with no pain in his shoulder Thursday.

Zambrano might be slimmer, but catcher Geovany Soto lost 40 pounds in the off-season. The 2008 NL rookie of the year slumped badly last season and missed a month with an oblique strain.

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