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Sunday, February 27, 2011
Zambrano starts strong, Garza has trouble

By Bruce Levine

MESA, Ariz. -- Carlos Zambrano kept his string of outstanding pitching performances going on Sunday.

The Cubs right-hander threw two innings of no-hit, no-run baseball in the team’s Cactus League opener against Oakland, a 15-7 loss.

Zambrano, the Cubs’ longest tenured player, is building on the 8-0 record he recorded in his last 11 starts of the 2010 campaign. Last years resurgence came after Zambrano was placed on the restricted list after a blowup with teammate Derrek Lee at U.S. Cellular Field in late June.

Carlos Zambrano
Carlos Zambrano threw two no-hit innings in the Cubs' Cactus League opener on Sunday.
Since that time, Zambrano has been a different player and a different person after going through anger management sessions that concluded in December.

Reporting to spring training, Zambrano said he was both physically and mentally fit to pick up where he left off at the end of last season.

Zambrano was asked if he was hyped-up going into his first spring start.

“I’m not a rookie anymore,” Zambrano said. “I’m just working hard to build my arm. I was feeling good. My arm and body responded well. Now let’s focus on what we have to do in spring training to get ready for the season.”

Newcomer Matt Garza didn’t fare as well as his teammate, giving up a grand slam home run in the first of his two innings after Zambrano exited.

But Garza was happy to talk about his first base hit at any professional level, which came in the Cubs’ fourth inning.

“That’s an exciting way to start out,” Garza said. “Before the game, I was just out there swinging with Z and [hitting coach] Rudy [Jaramillo] and Rudy was watching. He said, ‘Just get ready early. Try to put the bat on the ball.’ [I was thinking] just don’t strike out. [A’s first baseman Daric] Barton said to me, ‘Don’t smile.’ I said, ‘Dude, it’s my first hit.’ He’s like, ‘OK, just turn around and smile then.’ ”

That was to be the best part of the day for Garza in his Cubs debut, as he surrendered five hits and five runs in his two innings of work, including the aforementioned grand slam that Coco Crisp hit in the third inning.

“Today my job was to get outs,” Garza said. “I got six of them. Just not the way I wanted to go about it. But it’s spring training and I didn’t throw any breaking balls. Just fastballs and changeups.”

The Cubs starter talked about what he has to do as the spring progresses to get to where he needs to be.

“My location was off,” Garza said. “It’s spring training. At least the ball felt good coming out of my hand. It felt explosive toward home plate. Everything that needed to be there was there.”

Right-handers Randy Wells and Andrew Cashner will both pitch on Monday as they attempt to win rotation spots.