CHICAGO -- Elijah Dukes seemed to be beating a path to the batter's box because his Washington Nationals' teammates kept getting on base and giving him a chance to hit.
"You've got me down in the seven hole and it just comes so quick. You've got guys up there that's basically hit after hit after hit and then I'm up there. All day," Dukes said after his first career grand slam and career-best five RBI paced a 15-6 pasting of the Chicago Cubs on Tuesday night.
"I love scoring those guys that get on base and hitting the ball well. RBI mean a lot to me," he added. "It's not about the average and the home runs, it's getting those RBI."
Teammate Josh Willingham one-upped Dukes in that department. Willingham had a pair of homers and drove in six runs -- he had two grand slams and eight RBI against Milwaukee last month.
Washington's highest-scoring game of the season got the Cubs' 10-game homestand off to a poor start as the Nationals rocked ace Carlos Zambrano in his first outing since Aug. 1. Sidelined by a sore back, he came off the disabled list before the game.
"He just got behind a lot of hitters. And then when he gave us a pitch to hit, we hit it good," Willingham said. "You saw tonight what he [Dukes] is capable of doing."
The Cubs lost for the 13th time in 18 games and fell nine games behind St. Louis in the NL Central. Zambrano said his back was fine.
"There was nothing wrong," he said. "I made a lot of mistakes. They came ready today. .... I didn't do my job."
Willingham, who entered the game in a 1-for-19 skid, went 4-for-4. He had a solo homer in the fourth off Zambrano and a three-run shot off Tom Gorzelanny in the eighth, his 20th and 21st homers of the season.
Zambrano (7-5) hadn't pitched since going three innings Aug. 1. He lasted only 4 1/3 innings, gave up seven hits and was charged with eight runs. Dukes' grand slam came off reliever Aaron Heilman and made it 9-1.
"Elijah is a work in progress. .... When he can start laying off the ones low and away that aren't strikes, he's going to be a real force in this league," said National' interim manager Jim Riggleman, who managed his first game at Wrigley Field in a decade. He was fired by the Cubs after the 1999 season, one year after taking them to the playoffs.
Zambrano was outpitched by the Nationals' Garrett Mock (3-5), who allowed seven hits and four runs in 5 2/3 innings, leaving after a two-run double to Geovany Soto in the sixth. Milton Bradley homered for Chicago in the seventh and Jeff Baker connected in the ninth.
The Nationals, who had lost six of their previous seven games, drove Zambrano out in the fifth. He hit Willie Harris with a pitch before Cristian Guzman and Ryan Zimmerman singled for Washington's fourth run. Zambrano then walked Adam Dunn to load the bases and then walked Willingham to force in a run, ending his night.
Heilman then struck out Ronnie Belliard out before Dukes connected on the two-out grand slam.
Zambrano had admitted earlier that he had been lazy in his between-games abdominal workouts to keep his back strong. He also likes to take mighty cuts in batting practice and he showed why he does it when he hit his game-tying homer in the third.
Nationals CF Nyjer Morgan was out of the lineup with flu-like symptoms and replaced by Willie Harris. .... Cubs LF Alfonso Soriano was scratched with a sore left knee and Jake Fox got the start. Soriano consulted a doctor Tuesday and will test the knee again Wednesday. If it continues to hurt, he will have an MRI. ... After the game the Nationals announced they had signed veteran right-hander Livan Hernandez. He will start Wednesday night's game.