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Facing Brewers cures what ails Cubs ace Zambrano

CBS SportsLine.com wire reports
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MILWAUKEE -- After watching a teammate flirt with perfection the previous night, Carlos Zambrano figured facing Milwaukee was just what he needed.

Zambrano re-established himself as the Chicago Cubs' king of the road on Saturday, allowing three runs and five hits in seven innings and hitting an RBI single in a 6-3 victory over the Brewers.

Zambrano, who gave up five runs in five innings and took the loss at Cincinnati on opening day, said matter-of-factly that he considers the Reds a much tougher out than the Brewers.

"I don't say that the Milwaukee Brewers are nothing, but I think the offense of the Cincinnati Reds (is) better," Zambrano said. "There's no making mistakes when pitching against Cincinnati. When you make a mistake against them, you pay for it. When you make a mistake against Milwaukee, sometimes they miss it and that's good."

Brewers hitters have missed it quite a bit in the first two games of a three-game series against the Cubs. Zambrano's performance came less than 24 hours after Cubs starter Rich Hill took a perfect game into the sixth inning in Chicago's 9-3 victory Friday night.

Brewers manager Ned Yost chalked up his team's quiet bats in back-to-back games to two good pitching performances.

"Those guys were on, and it's kind of hard to get things going," Brewers right fielder Corey Hart said.

Zambrano (1-1) struck out four of the first six batters he faced and cruised through three perfect innings to start the game before allowing a solo home run to Rickie Weeks to lead off the fourth.

"Quite a different performance than his first one on opening day," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said of Zambrano. "Seven good innings of baseball."

Zambrano is a two-time All-Star who is set to become a free agent at the end of the season and recently extended his deadline for discussions about a contract extension with Chicago. He was 9-1 with a 2.97 ERA in 14 road starts last season.

Then again, with so many Cubs fans making the drive north, maybe Saturday's victory shouldn't really count as an away game. Cubs fans made it sound like a home game as they cheered a baffling pitching performance for the second game in a row.

The Brewers came closest to getting to Zambrano in the fourth inning.

After giving up the home run to Weeks, Zambrano walked J.J. Hardy, then gave up a sharp ground ball to Prince Fielder that appeared to be headed up the right field line. But first baseman Derrek Lee snagged the ball, slapped his glove on the base and threw Hardy out at second for a double play.

"Not many first basemen make that play," Yost said.

Zambrano then walked Bill Hall and gave up a single to put runners on first and third and two outs, but got Geoff Jenkins to strike out to end the inning. Zambrano strutted off the mound in his trademark fashion, pumping his fist and pointing to the sky.

"You've just got to hope you can put some hits together, but he battled through it and quieted it down," Yost said.

Lee was 3-for-4 with an RBI, and Aramis Ramirez hit a two-run homer in the in the sixth inning to put the Cubs ahead for good.

"Right now, we've got speed, power," Ramirez said. "We've got the whole package."

Brewers starter Ben Sheets (1-1) couldn't come up with a suitable encore to his stellar opening day performance, giving up five runs and nine hits in six innings to take the loss.

Yost said Sheets' curveball and fastball were working well but Sheets wasn't locating them properly.

"I'll sharpen up," Sheets said. "I'm pretty confident in that."

After pitching a two-hit complete game against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Monday, Sheets showed that didn't have his best stuff when he gave up a two-out RBI single to Zambrano in the second inning.

Of course, Zambrano did hit six home runs last season.

"He swings really hard," said Sheets, who often jokes about his own ineptitude with a bat in his hands.

Ryan Dempster pitched a perfect ninth for his second save of the season.

Notes

  • Lee's double in the first inning was the 500th extra-base hit of his career.
  • Yost considered resting catcher Johnny Estrada on Saturday, but chose to start him because he and Sheets communicated well in the season opener. Backup Damian Miller is expected to start Sunday.
  • Jenkins hit his first home run of the season in the seventh.
 
Copyright 2014 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.
 
 
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Lou Piniella on Big Z's good game: 'Quite a different performance than his opening day.'  (US Presswire)
Lou Piniella on Big Z's good game: 'Quite a different performance than his opening day.' (US Presswire)

Players of the Game
Chicago

C. Zambrano
IP 7.0
H 5
ER 3
BB 2
K 6
Chicago

D. Lee
AB 4
R 1
H 3
HR 0
RBI 1
 
Chicago Cubs
Alfonso Soriano, CF5010022 .217
Cesar Izturis, SS5110002 .300
Derrek Lee, 1B4131000 .429
Aramis Ramirez, 3B4112001 .455
Jacque Jones, RF4110001 .150
Matt Murton, LF4120010 .364
Mark DeRosa, 2B4111011 .412
Henry Blanco, C3001001 .000
Carlos Zambrano, P3011001 .200
    Bob Howry, P0000000 .000
   a- Daryle Ward, PH10100001.000
    Ryan Theriot, PR0000000 .000
    Ryan Dempster, P0000000 .000
Totals37612604  
a-singled for Howry in the 9th
Batting
2B - Alfonso Soriano (3, Sheets), Cesar Izturis (4, Dessens), Derrek Lee (2, Sheets)
3B - Mark DeRosa (1, Sheets)
HR - Aramis Ramirez (1, Sheets)
SF - Henry Blanco (1)
RBI - Derrek Lee (1), Aramis Ramirez 2 (4), Mark DeRosa (6), Henry Blanco (1), Carlos Zambrano (1)
2-OUT RBI - Carlos Zambrano (1)
Team LOB - 5
Fielding
DP - Lee-Izturis
Chicago Cubs
Carlos Zambrano (W,1-1) 7533262 6.00
Bob Howry (H,2) 1000010 3.38
Ryan Dempster (S,2) 1000020 0.00
Pitches-Strikes - Carlos Zambrano 109-67, Bob Howry 13-8, Ryan Dempster 12-10
Ground Balls-Fly Balls - Carlos Zambrano 8-6
Batters Faced - Carlos Zambrano 27, Bob Howry 3, Ryan Dempster 3
Milwaukee Brewers
Rickie Weeks, 2B4111010 .158
J.J. Hardy, SS3110110 .316
Prince Fielder, 1B4011021 .238
Bill Hall, CF3000101 .250
Johnny Estrada, C4010011 .368
Geoff Jenkins, LF4111032 .385
Corey Hart, RF3000010 .188
Craig Counsell, 3B3000000 .100
Ben Sheets, P2000000 .000
    Elmer Dessens, P0000000 .000
   a- Tony Gwynn, PH1000000 .000
    Greg Aquino, P0000000 .000
Totals3135329  
a-grounded out for Dessens in the 7th
Batting
2B - Prince Fielder (2, Zambrano)
HR - Rickie Weeks (1, Zambrano), Geoff Jenkins (1, Zambrano)
RBI - Rickie Weeks (1), Prince Fielder (2), Geoff Jenkins (3)
Team LOB - 3
Fielding
DP - Hardy-Weeks-Fielder
Milwaukee Brewers
Ben Sheets (L,1-1) 6955031 3.60
Elmer Dessens 1211000 4.50
Greg Aquino 2100010 0.00
Pitches-Strikes - Ben Sheets 99-67, Elmer Dessens 22-13, Greg Aquino 18-14
Ground Balls-Fly Balls - Ben Sheets 6-9, Elmer Dessens 3-0, Greg Aquino 3-1
Batters Faced - Ben Sheets 27, Elmer Dessens 5, Greg Aquino 6
Game Information
Attendance - 41282
Game Time - 2:25
Temperature - 59
Umpires - Home - Charlie Reliford, First Base - Larry Vanover, Second Base - Greg Gibson, Third Base - Tony Randazzo