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Big Z has some big changes in store

Big Z has some big changes in store

MESA, Ariz. -- Carlos Zambrano has a new haircut and a new mental approach to the game but has dropped 15 pounds and one of his pitches.

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The Cubs right-hander said Thursday he's eliminating the cutter, saying it was a pitch he couldn't control as well as his others.

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"No more cutter," Zambrano said prior to the first workout for pitchers and catchers at Fitch Park. "Just sinker -- sinker and split finger. [The cutter] was a pitch I sometimes couldn't control. It's good to have that pitch, but it wasn't the pitch that made me successful. The sinker was the one that made me good back in my career."

Wait a minute -- Zambrano isn't that old. The 28-year-old pitcher says his repertoire will now include a sinker, slider, split and "high fastball." He got a head start on the 2010 season by getting to Arizona around Feb. 1, and has already had four or five bullpen sessions.

"I think I can be better," said Zambrano, who is coming off a sour injury-filled season in which he went 9-7 in 28 starts. "Obviously, to be better, one of the ways is to work hard, be in shape, be in better shape, and do everything exactly right, not only physically but mentally."

This is coming from a guy who bashed a Gatorade dispenser in the dugout with a bat, who never hides his emotions. What mental changes can Cubs fans expect?

"You will see," Zambrano said with a smile. "I think I've passed that age or that stage when everything was getting me mad. That's why you will see a different Carlos Zambrano, smiling and laughing with everybody, even with the umpires."

As for the Gatorade cooler, Zambrano said he's "kissed and made up" with that.

The right-hander arrived in camp looking fit and trim. He's lost about 15 pounds and wants to drop another five before Opening Day to reach 255. He took his loss to another level by trimming his hair in the same cropped style it was during his rookie season in 2002.

"I feel like a new guy, I feel like a rookie again," Zambrano said. "That's why I got this haircut. Somebody said, 'You look like when you were a rookie.' When I first came up to pitch against Milwaukee [Aug. 20, 2001], I had the same haircut."

But he doesn't plan on being the same pitcher as he was last year. Zambrano won't predict what he'll do in 2010, except that it will be better.

"I've learned from experience," he said. "I don't want to think about winning 20 games or do this or do that. I just want to think about staying healthy and go out there and pitch the way I know how to pitch."

"Carlos is serious," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "I think Carlos was embarrassed last year. How many games did he win, nine? I think this year you'll see a totally different pitcher on the mound.

"We need Carlos. There's no reason why Zambrano can't win 18 ballgames or so. I think we're going to score more runs this year as a team. We have a darn good chance of being better defensively. With the shape he's in and the fact that he wasn't happy with his performance last year, I think this will be a big year for Carlos."

Zambrano spent most of the offseason in Chicago and said it wasn't that bad. He made trips to Mexico and Guatemala, the latter for his foundation, which helped offset the cold weather.

"I was expecting more snow, more cold," the Venezuelan said. "It was nice. As long as you have a jacket or pullover on, you don't feel the cold."

However, being in the States, he did hear some of the offseason rumors out of New York that the Cubs were considering trading the pitcher. Those stories didn't go over well with Zambrano's 9-year-old daughter.

"She started crying and said she doesn't want to move, she loves Chicago," Zambrano said. "It's hard to see your kids crying. It was frustration -- everyone was talking about trading, trading, trading. Thank God, [general manager Jim Hendry] never mentioned anything to me. It was all speculation by [the media]. So many people say it, sometimes you believe it."

Zambrano has a full no-trade clause, and said he would not have approved a deal.

"I want to finish here," he said of the Cubs. "I want to finish my career here."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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{"content":["spring_training" ] }