Zambrano helps himself with the bat

JUPITER, Fla. — Carlos Zambrano takes hitting very seriously.

It shows by the fact he is a career .241 hitter in the big leagues with 23 homers. With the Cubs a year ago, he batted .318 with two home runs.

Zambrano also is a switch-hitter, wanting to produce on both sides of the plate.

“You have to be able to bunt, run the bases,” Zambrano said. “We’re in the National League. That’s why I take this so seriously. Bunt. Run the bases, anything to make my team win the ballgame.”

Zambrano will be either the Marlins’ fourth or fifth starter. But he strives to help himself at the plate.

On Sunday, he hit for the first time in Spring Training.

Zambrano helped account for an unearned run off St. Louis’ Adam Wainwright in the third inning at Roger Dean Stadium.

With runners on first and second, he dropped a bunt, that was fielded by first baseman Lance Berkman, who threw to third base for a force out. The bunt ended up working out, as third baseman Daniel Descalso threw wildly to first base. On the error, one run scored and Zambrano advanced to second.

Zambrano wasn’t pleased with the bunt, because he didn’t push it to the third base side enough.

“When I step into the box, I’m a hitter,” he said. “I try to be tough and a difficult out.”

The irony is, Zambrano has had success batting, but growing up in Venezuela, he wasn’t used in the middle of the lineup. In fact, he said, when he started playing, the coach would put him at the bottom of the order.

“When I started playing when I was 14, I was a right fielder, but I signed as a pitcher,” Zambrano said. “I was a No. 8, No. 9 hitter. I was so bad growing up. I played for a team where the manager used to wait when he made the lineup. He’d wait until somebody else would come, and he would put somebody in the lineup, and I was on the bench. Or I was the No. 9 hitter. If five minutes before the game, if he didn’t see anybody, he’d say, ‘Let’s put Zambrano in.’ ”

Manager Ozzie Guillen is more worried about Zambrano the pitcher than Zambrano the hitter.

“The only thing I want Carlos to do is get three at-bats, that means he is pitching pretty well,” Guillen said. “If Carlos gets three at-bats, that means he’s pitching well and we’re in business.”

Joe Frisaro

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