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.
Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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Clubhouse frustration bubbling up for Cubs and Jake Arrieta

PITTSBURGH — We interrupt your regularly scheduled coverage of The Plan and that wacky, fun-loving Cubs team to bring you a snapshot of clubhouse frustration.

Jake Arrieta sounded defensive while talking to reporters after Wednesday night’s 8-4 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park, standing in front of his locker and second-guessing manager Joe Maddon. On the other side of the room, veteran catcher Miguel Montero questioned the way the Cubs are preparing for the playoffs with Cactus League scripts.

The postgame questions started with Arrieta’s first-inning issues with umpire Chris Guccione’s strike zone. When reporters mentioned Maddon’s positive spin on a seven-run outing, Arrieta dismissed those happy-talk answers about his stuff — “it just wasn’t crisp” — and then wondered why he went from throwing to Montero to rookie Willson Contreras.

“The feeling of the game, from the first pitch, just wasn’t there,” Arrieta said. “Switching catchers just felt like we were trying to do a little too much instead of win a ballgame. But I didn’t throw well, no way around it.”

Montero went with a similar passive-aggressive tone, riffing on how the Cubs will maintain their edge almost two weeks after clinching the National League Central title and nine days before their first playoff game at Wrigley Field.

“Did it feel like spring training?” Montero said. “I do believe that. And that’s not a good feeling for a pitcher, for a player, to go into a game knowing that you’re going to play just four innings or five innings or whatever it is.

“This game is still important for all the players. It’s still important for every single guy. I don’t want to go out there not caring about winning or losing. That’s not my mentality. My mentality is going out there because I want to win, regardless.

“We have to trick our mind. Because if that’s how we’re going to go the rest of the way, I guess we need to trick ourselves.”

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Unprompted, Montero brought up the Pirates scoring three runs in the ninth inning on Tuesday night before the Cubs hung on for a 6-4 victory — without using Aroldis Chapman — as Maddon tries to keep the bullpen fresh for the playoffs.

“We didn’t have our closer warming up,” Montero said. “That’s something I take personally because I’m catching and I want to win.

“It’s hard. I understand (Joe’s) point. And I understand the organization’s point. I respect it. I can only control what I can control. It is what it is.”

OK then, the Cubs are still a 101-win team and the NL’s No. 1 seed. But this became a sharp contrast to all the backslapping after the pregame announcement of Theo Epstein’s monster contract extension. And Arrieta didn’t look like a reigning Cy Young Award winner, giving up 10 hits while John Jaso — who does look like a Pirate — lined a curveball into the right-field seats for a three-run homer in the fourth inning and hit for the cycle.

“We’re moving on,” Arrieta said. “We’ll prepare for the next one. I don’t like giving up seven runs. I’m pissed about that. But moving forward, everything’s fine.”

With Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks lined up at the front of the playoff rotation, Arrieta’s next start is almost two weeks away.

“It doesn’t matter,” Arrieta said. “I’ll throw sides. I’ll prepare. And whoever I face first round — they’re going to be in trouble.”

After burning through 103 pitches in five innings, Arrieta’s regular-season odometer is now at 197 1/3 innings, but he has zero interest in a gimmick that would get him to 200 this weekend against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park.

“Listen, I want to pitch on a schedule,” Arrieta said. “I don’t want to throw an inning in a game. I’m not trying to do anything different. Let’s just prepare like we normally do and go out and try to win games. I’m not trying to throw a bullpen in a game.”

Look, if this isn’t trouble in paradise, then it’s obvious that the Cubs are a hyper-competitive group that knows what’s at stake in October and has some independent thinkers and strong personalities. And that Arrieta’s unreal 2015 season created impossible standards for this year that couldn’t be met with an 18-8 record and a 3.10 ERA, the type of numbers that still get pitchers $200 million contracts.

“I don’t think you know how hard this game is unless you play it,” Arrieta said. “I feel I can have another season like that. People have done it before. Why can’t I do it? I can do it again. So, yeah, I appreciate it. But at the same time, that’s what you strive for. That’s why you work hard. You go out and you try to perform that way.”