Aside from Spring Training, when he went 0-3 with a 6.23 ERA in six starts, Zambrano last stepped foot on a Major League mound last August. After serving up five home runs and eight runs total in 4 1/3 innings of a loss to the Braves, Zambrano was ejected for firing a pair of pitches that nearly hit Chipper Jones.
This led to a dramatic miniseries in which the emotional hurler planned to retire, changed his mind, then earned a spot on the Cubs' disqualified list. In the end, that start against Atlanta was the last Zambrano would make during the 2011 campaign, and the last he would make with the Cubs.
Now he's a member of a Marlins squad that is fresh off a rejuvenated offseason, and finally found a spark after an offensively challenged pair of losses to start the year.
If he is to build off Miami's 8-3 win in Cincinnati on Saturday, Zambrano will need to solve his command issues. He walked 21 batters in 21 2/3 spring innings.
"I'm concerned about it," Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen said. "I'm not worried. But when you're walking that many guys, and they only score three or four, you get lucky. I think he needs to go after people a little bit more."
The Reds received a dominant start from ace Johnny Cueto to go along with timely hitting in Thursday's 4-0 win against Miami.
"That was an outstanding performance by Johnny Cueto," Reds skipper Dusty Baker said. "He was calm. He was relaxed. He was throwing strikes."
On Saturday, however, the offense shriveled against Marlins righty Ricky Nolasco, who allowed just three runs on six hits in eight innings.
Despite his spring struggles, Zambrano has had success against the Reds throughout his career. In 37 appearances (32 starts) against Cincinnati, Big Z is 17-11 with a 3.28 ERA.
"He has confidence," Guillen said. "He wants to pitch here. There are a lot of good things for him. Obviously, the last two [Spring Training] outings isn't what you want to see. Hopefully, it changes [Sunday]."
Marlins: Patience pays off for Miami hitters
Miami's offense sputtered through the first two games of the new season, but Guillen told his team not to press.
"Trying to do too much," Guillen said. "They know they're good. They're a good hitting club, and go from there."
After scratching across one run in Wednesday's Opening Night loss to St. Louis, the Marlins managed just three hits in a 4-0 loss to the Reds a day later. On Saturday, the offense came alive, producing eight runs and 12 hits.
"Take one at-bat at a time and we'll be fine," Guillen said.
Three members of Miami's starting rotation have tossed no-hitters in their careers. Zambrano, Mark Buehrle and Anibal Sanchez have all completed the feat.
"I was talking with my brother the other day," Zambrano said. "He was telling me, 'Your rotation has three guys who have thrown a no-hitter before.' I told him that this rotation will have a fourth one, with Josh Johnson. He is that caliber, to be the No. 1 starter."
Reds: Arroyo searches for consistency
Which Bronson Arroyo will show up this season?
The veteran right-hander, who won 15 or more games from 2008-10, turned in a 9-12 mark in 2011, and posted a 4.91 ERA in six starts this spring.
In his last spring outing, however, Arroyo limited Cleveland to just one run on seven hits in 6 1/3 innings.
"With all my stuff, I had command of it -- the mixture of pitches," Arroyo said after his most recent performance. "It was a little more free and easy today. I didn't have to work so hard to feel like I was getting the ball to the plate. Hopefully that will continue."
Second baseman Brandon Phillips could be on the verge of signing a contract extension with the Reds, but he isn't ready to divulge that information himself.
Cincinnati general manager Walt Jocketty told MLB.com Thursday that a deal could be reached with Phillips within a week or so. Phillips, however, declined to comment.
"I'm not talking about money," the Gold Glove Award winner said. "Money does talk. But winning is better. I'll take that. I'll talk about winning."
Marlins shortstop Jose Reyes holds a career .297 batting average (11-for-37) against Arroyo, with seven of his 11 hits going for extra bases (four doubles and three homers).
Joey Votto hit his first homer of the season on Saturday, three days after inking a 10-year, $225 million contract extension. Votto hit a two-run shot off Nolasco.