Carlos Zambrano’s fresh start with the Marlins is working – for now

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Miami Marlins’ Carlos Zambrano delivers a pitch during the first inning of a baseball game against the Houston Astros, Saturday, April 14, 2012, in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

MIAMI – A Miami meltdown for Carlos Zambrano? No way, says his old friend and new manager.

“I have a bet on it,” Ozzie Guillen said. “He’ll be fine. He’s happy. He’s excited to be here. . . . He’s been awesome.”

Maybe Guillen’s on to something. And with only 151 games to go, he’s even winning that bet.

Carlos Zambrano a new man? Big Z turning over a new leaf? Fresh starts and candy-coated plans?

Well, stranger things have happened – usually involving Zambrano in Chicago. And we’ve certainly heard similar things for years on the North Side at the start of every season for five or six years.

But something about seeing him with his new team seemed to fit, whether it’s Ozzie, the warmup tops that look vaguely like his old Chicago Bandits jersey or the fact nobody’s asking him to be more than a No. 4 starter.

Regardless, the guy who says he “left half of my heart in Chicago” was upbeat during a reunion Tuesday with often-critical Cubswriters.

Zambrano, who won’t pitch this series, said he has “no hard feelings” toward former general manager Jim Hendry, who suspended Z each of the last two seasons.

“I know that I made a mistake in Chicago – I made a lot of mistakes,” Zambrano added. “But I know that I gave a lot of good memories and good things to the Cubs. And I accept it. I accept my mistakes. I’m responsible. I don’t make excuses.

“I’m responsible for the things that happened in Chicago. Nobody else. It wasn’t Jim Hendry. It wasn’t the team. It was me. Carlos Zambrano. That’s why I’m here. I wanted to play [my whole career] with the Cubs, because they were the team that brought me up and the team that discovered me and the team that gave me the chance and the opportunity. But things aren’t like that.”

Zambrano, who has no record and a 3.75 ERA after two starts for the Marlins, is in the final year of a five-year, $91.5 million deal. The Cubs are paying more than $15 million of it after trading Zambrano for pitcher Chris Volstad in January.

He sealed his exit in August when he got ejected in Atlanta for throwing at Chipper Jones, then left the clubhouse, telling team personnel he was “retiring.”

It didn’t take long for new president Theo Epstein and new GM Jed Hoyer to conclude after taking over in October that the team was best without Z – even after Epstein and Zambrano met in December.

“I had hope [of staying],” Zambrano said. “Obviously, this is a business, and businesses are like that. Sometimes they need somebody that will fit better than me over there, and these people here in Miami need me here, so that’s why they made the trade.”

He does miss Chicago, he said.

“Chicago was always great to me,” he said. “I do really appreciate all the attention – all the criticism, too. Because it made me get better. Nobody likes to be criticized. . . .

“Nothing compares to Wrigley. . . . The passion of the fans is something that you don’t see in any other ballpark. But it was time to move the page.”

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