Quade defends Z's struggles

Jeff Baker's first-inning homer was one the Cubs' few bright spots on Thursday night. David Banks/Getty Images

CHICAGO Chicago Cubs’ manager Mike Quade was far from his jovial self after his team fell 9-5 to the Milwaukee Brewers. Quade didn’t seem too pleased when having to defend starting pitcher Carlos Zambrano’s performance as of late.

“I asked a lot from [Zambrano in Philadelphia], we were losing and we needed him,” Quade said. “Today, he makes a mistake mentally in the fourth, gives up a scratch run with the pitcher on deck, gives up some ground balls. [The Brewers are] a pretty good club. It wasn’t vintage Z . . . but I thought he threw the ball great.”

Quade tried to extend Zambrano in his last start against the Philadelphia Phillies when Zambrano threw 128 pitches and gave up a grand slam before being pulled in the seventh. In the Phillies loss, as well as today’s -- in which Zambrano went six innings giving up five runs on nine hits and two walks – the Cubs failed to get their first three-game winning streak of the season.

“I don’t know, we lost the game today, it’s bad,” Zambrano said. “The last time in Philly, we won two in a row, it was up to me to get the third game in a row. And today too, I couldn’t do it. At the same time I have to keep my head up and keep pitching. Sooner or later this streak will come again.”

While Zambrano’s recent struggles are of concern, Quade’s biggest worry may be his overworked bullpen. Quade has leaned on his bullpen, which has been solid most of the year but is starting to show signs of overuse. In the Cubs last three losses, the bullpen has pitched nine innings while giving up 11 runs (nine earned). The bullpen is third in the National League with 223 2/3 innings pitched.

“The bullpen’s not perfect, when the margin of error is one every night, it gets a little tougher,” Quade said. “We have leaned on them and we’ve had to in many instances.”

With a unit that was one of the clubs few strengths beginning to look worn down, the Cubs are going to need Zambrano, Ryan Dempster and Thursday’s starter Matt Garza to eat up more innings to rest the pen.

Reed Johnson, who hit a three-run home run in the fifth to temporarily pull the Cubs within a run, saw signs of hope.

“We battled, we continued to come back a couple different times,” Johnson said. “That’s always a good sign that we’re always giving ourselves a chance.”

Johnson seems able to find a silver lining during a season that has had very few. Of course that’s something that’s never easy when your team is 27-40 and falling faster and faster to the bottom of the league.

As for Zambrano, he seems to be able to keep the faith in both the good times and the bad.

“It’s easier when you are winning games, when your ERA is down, to thank God,” Zambrano said. “But I thank God for everything, I thank God for anything that happens out there. I believe in God and I believe that we can get on another streak and . . . we can keep winning games.”

For the Cubs to get back to relevancy in the National League, they may just need a little Divine Intervention.