LIVE: Zambrano goes deep, Cubs lead 6-5

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LIVE: Zambrano goes deep, Cubs lead 6-5

Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Posted: 11:37 a.m.
Associated Press

The Chicago Cubs were counting on Carlos Zambrano to carry over his success from the end of last season into 2011.

While he hasn't been as sharp as the Cubs likely would have hoped, Zambrano's lengthy streak of winning decisions remains alive.

Seeking a career-best 10th consecutive victory, Zambrano takes the mound Wednesday night as the visiting Cubs and Houston Astros conclude their three-game set.

After going 8-0 with a 1.24 ERA over his last 10 starts of 2010, Zambrano (1-0, 5.25 ERA) brought high hopes into this year.

While Zambrano has been shaky at times in his first two outings, surrendering seven earned runs over 12 innings, the Cubs are 2-0 when the three-time All-Star takes the mound.

Despite allowing four runs in six innings of Friday's 7-4 victory at Milwaukee, the right-hander earned his ninth straight winning decision - matching the longest run of his career from June 5-July 30, 2006.

"I'm keeping the streak going," Zambrano, who has recorded a 1.91 ERA en route to winning seven straight road starts, told the Cubs' official website. "It's about winning."

The 29-year-old Zambrano has experienced plenty of that against the Astros (3-8) lately, going 3-1 with a 1.77 ERA in his last six starts in the series - including a no-hitter Sept. 14, 2008, at Milwaukee's Miller Park. Zambrano is 13-8 with a 2.65 ERA in 29 career starts versus the Astros.

Houston's Wandy Rodriguez (0-1, 6.55) seemed to settle down in his last start after giving up seven runs in four innings a 9-4 loss at Philadelphia on April 2.

Rodriguez allowed one run and eight hits over seven innings of Friday's 4-3 loss to Florida.

"You see how Wandy threw, he threw amazing," first baseman Brett Wallace said. "He went out there and gave us a great chance to win. Our defense played well behind him, for the most part. Next time, we can hopefully put up a few more runs."

Scoring wasn't an issue for Houston on Tuesday night, when it recorded its highest run total of the season in an 11-2 win over Chicago (5-6).

Houston collected at least 10 hits for a fifth consecutive game for the first time since May 1-5, 2009, and raised its home batting average to .339.

Michael Bourn, Angel Sanchez and Hunter Pence combined to go 9 for 15 with seven runs scored and seven RBIs hitting 1-2-3 in the Astros' lineup.

"Bourn and Sanchez are doing an outstanding job," Pence said. "It feels like every at-bat I've got runners everywhere. It feels good. When they're doing that the offense is coming around and that's a good ball game when they're doing that."

Rodriguez, who has gone 2-0 while allowing no more than one run in each of his last five home starts against the Cubs, hasn't faced Chicago at Minute Maid Park since opposing Zambrano in a 2-1 Astros win June 10, 2009. Neither pitcher factored in the decision.

The left-hander went 1-0 with a 3.60 ERA in three starts against Chicago at Wrigley Field last season.

Houston outfielder Carlos Lee is hitting .379 (22 for 58) with five home runs against Zambrano. He is the only Astros player to have homered off the Venezuela native.

Chicago outfielder Alfonso Soriano, 2 for 14 over his last four games, is 2 for 26 (.077) with eight strikeouts lifetime against Rodriguez.

After going 3 for 5 in Monday's 5-4 win in the series opener, Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro extended his hitting streak to five games with two more hits Tuesday.

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

Cubs: Ben Zobrist's path back to October and a possible three-peat

Cubs: Ben Zobrist's path back to October and a possible three-peat

MESA, Ariz. – Ben Zobrist is focused on a personal three-peat, not worrying about a changing of the guard or any awkward moments with Javier Baez. Cubs manager Joe Maddon has repeatedly said that Zobrist will be the primary second baseman and another "Javy Being Javy" highlight reel from the World Baseball Classic won't change that thinking right now.

Zobrist sees the big picture better than almost anyone else in the clubhouse after going undrafted out of Eureka High School in downstate Illinois, perfecting the super-utility role Maddon envisioned with the Tampa Bay Rays and helping transform the 2015 Kansas City Royals into World Series champions.

While Baez started all 17 playoff games at second base last year, bursting onto the scene as the National League Championship co-MVP, Zobrist became the World Series MVP with his clutch hitting and still has three seasons left on his $56 million contract.

Maddon didn't spare anyone's feelings during the playoffs, turning $184 million outfielder Jason Heyward into a part-time player, giving a quick hook to major-league ERA leader Kyle Hendricks and shunning relievers not named Aroldis Chapman.

"We haven't had an extended conversation about it," Zobrist said. "But at the beginning of spring, we talked about it. I think his words were: ‘I really think rest is the next improvement in player performance.' Learning what rest means, what good rest is for players and what kind of rest certain players need versus others.

"That doesn't necessarily mean just because you're 35. It could mean you're 25 and you still got to take care of yourself and make sure you're getting the proper rest. Because we have such a deep team, he's able to do that at any given point in time and still feel confident about the team we have on the field.

"It's a good problem to have when you have really good players not playing and sitting on the bench. We had that all last year and we had guys accept their role and just buy into the team concept.

"The makeup of this team is the same, basically. We've got a few new guys and they've got the same mindset, so I anticipate more of the same."

Injuries are one variable that prevents Maddon from getting too stressed out about dividing the playing time over 162 games while the NCAA tournament is still going. Zobrist's stiff neck felt good enough to hit leadoff and play right field in Tuesday afternoon's 10-7 loss to the San Francisco Giants, seeing his first Cactus League action since March 19.

Zobrist plans to play again on Wednesday in Mesa and catch up with more at-bats on the minor-league side of the complex. Assuming Zobrist and All-Star shortstop Addison Russell (stiff back) are ready for Opening Night, Baez will be an NLCS MVP, all-WBC talent waiting for the right matchup or break in the schedule or to sub in as a defensive replacement.

"It's pretty impressive, looking around at the young talent in this clubhouse," Zobrist said. "All throughout spring training, we've seen there's definitely other talent coming, so this team is poised to have a good, long run of success. If everybody stays healthy and we stay together, this is a very good team.

"The biggest thing that I go into the season with this year is we have to be healthy and we have to make sure that we don't relax too much. That's the temptation for teams that just won, to go: OK, well, we're tired, because we had a long season last year and you kind of just assume things are going to go as well as they did.

"You can't assume anything. No matter how good this team is, we have to still go out and execute and perform – and that's going to determine where we are in the standings."

In real time, as the Cubs experienced their lowest moments during last year's regular season, Zobrist correctly pointed out the exhaustion factor while the team played 24 days in a row, losing 15 of their last 21 games before the All-Star break.

What looks like overwhelming depth on paper should help the 2017 Cubs survive and advance into October.

"It's huge," Zobrist said. "It's up and down the lineup on offense. It's all throughout the pitching staff and on the defensive side. It's so deep that you can absorb a little bit of injury here and there.

"With that being said, there are certain guys that you just don't want to lose. So we got to protect everybody. We got to protect our horses – both on the mound and in the lineup – and just make sure that we have our key cogs in there. And if we do, we're as good, if not better, than anybody out there."

Cubs return Rule 5 lefty Caleb Smith to Yankees as roster comes into focus

Cubs return Rule 5 lefty Caleb Smith to Yankees as roster comes into focus

MESA, Ariz. - Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella - and a combination of right/left, outfield/infield and contractual considerations - appears to be the final decision as the Cubs shape their Opening Night roster.

The Cubs returned Rule 5 lefty Caleb Smith to the New York Yankees on Tuesday and assigned injured non-roster players Jemile Weeks and Chris Dominguez to minor-league camp. That left 27 players still technically in the mix, though depth catcher Carlos Corporan isn't really part of that conversation.

The projected eight-man bullpen would look like this: Wade Davis; Koji Uehara; Pedro Strop; Hector Rondon; Carl Edwards Jr.; Justin Grimm; and lefties Mike Montgomery and Brian Duensing.

Szczur, who is out of minor-league options, could be a good fourth outfielder on a team that didn't have so much depth and World Series expectations, making him a potential trade chip for pitching. La Stella offers infield insurance and a left-handed bat off the bench.