LIVE: Jones gives Pirates 3-0 advantage

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LIVE: Jones gives Pirates 3-0 advantage

Saturday, April 2, 2011
Posted: 10:09 a.m.
Associated Press

The emotional Carlos Zambrano experienced a wild 2010 season - even by his standards.

Zambrano hopes to carry over the success he had down the stretch last season for the Cubs when he takes the ball Saturday against a Pittsburgh Pirates team that looks to continue to frustrate Chicago.

After Zambrano made the last six opening day starts for the Cubs, new manager Mike Quade decided to give the ball to Ryan Dempster on Friday. Dempster pitched well early and Chicago led 2-0 after four innings, but Pittsburgh's Neil Walker hit a grand slam in the fifth to put the Pirates ahead.

Andrew McCutchen then hit a two-run homer in the seventh off Dempster, and the Pirates won 6-3 at a rainy Wrigley Field.

"It's definitely good confidence builder for us," Walker said. "It's a good win to come into somebody else's opening day and steal a win."

Pittsburgh won its fifth straight season opener and continued to make things difficult for Chicago.

Despite going a major league-worst 57-105 in 2010 and suffering an 18th straight losing season, the Pirates were 10-5 against the Cubs.

Walker and McCutchen have been instrumental to this success.

Walker is hitting .467 with four homers and 11 RBIs in seven games against the Cubs since the start of last season, while McCutchen is batting .446 with 12 RBIs, 14 runs and a .530 on-base percentage in 15 games. McCutchen is also 5 for 7 with a triple and double lifetime against Zambrano.

"The kid Walker is a nice player and McCutchen is who he is," Quade said. "We got to figure out how to get them out better."

Zambrano finished last season 11-6 with a 3.33 ERA - his lowest ERA since 3.26 in 2005 - and always seemed to be in the headlines.

The passionate right-hander had a 7.45 ERA after four starts and was quickly banished to the bullpen. An embarrassing dugout skirmish in June led to a trip to the restricted list and anger-management counseling.

Zambrano managed to put all this behind him, however, and went 8-0 with a 1.24 ERA in his final 10 starts to knock more than two runs off his ERA.

The three-time All-Star, who often gets flustered when things don't go his way on the mound, is hoping to carry the mindset that he showed down the stretch of last season into 2011.

"My job here is to pitch, and not to criticize or do any other thing," he told the Cubs' official website. "Just pitch."

Zambrano made his lone start against the Pirates last season on Aug. 30, allowing one run in 5 1-3 innings of a 14-2 win. The right-hander is 5-1 with a 3.38 ERA in his last 10 starts against Pittsburgh.

The Pirates counter with Paul Maholm, who went 9-15 with a 5.10 ERA in 32 starts last season. Maholm's ERA was the fifth-worst in the majors among qualifying pitchers and his .303 opponents' batting average was the worst.

The left-hander could run into trouble against a Chicago team that had 11 hits Thursday, led by Starlin Castro's three.

Maholm recorded a 2.25 ERA in winning his first three starts of the 2010 season against the Cubs, before being knocked around for eight runs in 3 1-3 innings in that loss at Wrigley Field on Aug. 30.

Despite owning a 6.42 career ERA against the Cubs - his second-worst against any NL opponent - Maholm is 7-2 lifetime versus Chicago.
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Brett Anderson’s personality mixing well with Cubs: ‘I don’t hate anybody yet’

Brett Anderson’s personality mixing well with Cubs: ‘I don’t hate anybody yet’

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Joe Maddon's T-shirt slogans can get a little old at times, but the Cubs manager found a new audience in Brett Anderson, who liked the idea of "Be Uncomfortable" after signing a one-year, prove-it deal with the defending champs.

"It's been awesome so far," Anderson said. "That's my running joke – we're a month into it now or whatever it is – and I don't hate anybody yet.

"That's a testament to the group as a whole – and maybe me evolving as a person."

Yes, Anderson's sarcasm, social-media presence and groundball style fits in with a team built around short-term pitching and Gold Glove defense. The if-healthy lefty finished his Cactus League tour on Saturday afternoon by throwing four innings (one unearned run) during a 7-4 loss to the Colorado Rockies in front of 13,565 at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick.

Anderson will open the season as the No. 4 starter after a camp that has been remarkably low-key and drama-free.

"I'm kind of cynical by nature, but it's a fun group to be a part of," Anderson said, "(with) young guys that are exciting and happy to be here. And then obviously the mix of veterans, too, that are here with intentions of winning another World Series."

To make that happen, the pitching staff will have to again stay unbelievably healthy. Anderson rolled with a general question about how he physically feels now compared to where he's usually at by this time of year.

"Obviously better than last year, because I was walking with a gimp and all that stuff," said Anderson, who underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair a bulging disk in his lower back last March. "No, my body feels good, my arm feels good and you're getting into the dog days of spring training where you're itching to get to the real thing."

Joe Maddon breaks down the Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella decision for Cubs

Joe Maddon breaks down the Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella decision for Cubs

MESA, Ariz. – Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella appears to be the final decision as the Cubs shape their Opening Night roster.

That's assuming good health – manager Joe Maddon sounded unconcerned about Ben Zobrist (stiff neck), Addison Russell (stiff back) and Albert Almora Jr. (stiff neck) – and the Cubs carrying an eight-man bullpen.

Maddon appeared to eliminate one variable, confirming that La Stella has signaled a willingness to go to Triple-A Iowa if necessary, which would normally be an obvious statement, except for last summer's "Where's Tommy?" episode.

"I haven't even thought about it," Maddon said during Saturday's media session at the Sloan Park complex. "It's not an issue. I thought we handled it pretty openly last year and there's been no blowback whatsoever from the players."

Beyond this – La Stella initially refused to report to the minors last July, moved back home to New Jersey and talked briefly about retirement – an American League scout and a National League scout tracking the Cubs in Arizona both agreed that Szczur looks like the superior player.

Plus Szczur – and not La Stella – is out of minor-league options now.

"When you get this kind of a talent, depth-wise, it's a wonderful problem to have," Maddon said. "And then, of course, the rules start creeping in. The rules in this situation would benefit Matt, which is a good thing, because he's a big-league guy that's been riding the shuttle. He's done it in a very stoic manner, and he's been great for us."

La Stella has allies in the clubhouse – Jake Arrieta got a Coastal Carolina tattoo on his right butt cheek after losing a College World Series bet – and goes about his routine in a quiet, diligent manner.

La Stella is not a distraction at all and can hit left-handed and play the infield – two attributes that Szczur can't bring to Maddon's bench.

"Matt Szczur, to me, is a Major League Baseball player," Maddon said. "You're seeing what Tommy can do from the left side of the plate right now. And then it's just a matter of balancing things out. We've already mentioned that some guys on the infield can play the outfield within this group, thus it presents differently regarding what you need."

[MORE CUBS: Javier Baez won’t change his style around Cubs after World Baseball Classic: ‘We’re not showing anybody up’]

Szczur is hitting .361 with a .994 OPS through 14 Cactus League games and can play all over the outfield. But that skill is diminished when the Cubs already have four established outfielders plus Zobrist and Kris Bryant able to shift from the infield.

Then again, defensive wizard Javier Baez should have the Cubs covered all across the infield in case of an emergency. With the defending World Series champs a week out from facing the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium, we're about to find out if Maddon made his recommendation or had a possible trade scenario or disabled-list situation in mind.

"I love Matt Szczur," Maddon said. "This guy as a teammate – you're not going to get a better one. Nobody's going to get a better one on any team for any reason.

"We haven't decided everything or anything yet. Stuff happens in a very short period of time. He is a major-league baseball player. So we'll just wait a couple more days, see how it plays out. But he's a benefit to any group that has him."