While yesterday was a holiday to most Chicago Cubs fans, it kind of felt like Memorial Day – sombre and reflective – without the day off.
Starter Carlos Zambrano had a disastrous outing, which has officially become his Opening Day M.O. But both he and Piniella are ready to learn from it and move on, without passion or pretense. They both seem very businesslike about the whole enterprise, which is probably what you like to see this early in the season after a shellacking like that.
“I never envisioned giving up 16 runs on Opening Day — never in my wildest dreams,” Piniella said. “[We gave up] 16 runs after we pitched really well all spring. And not only did we pitch well, but we threw strikes and got ahead of the hitters. Today was the complete opposite.
“You can’t pitch from behind against a good-hitting team,” Piniella said. “And you certainly can’t walk people against a good-hitting team, and that’s exactly what we did.”
This matched Zambrano’s shortest start ever. On Sept. 4, 2006, he also went 1 1/3 innings, but he exited that game because of back problems. Big Z is 1-2 with a 6.99 ERA (22 earned runs over 28 1/3 innings) in his Opening Day starts.
“He’s certainly capable of doing a heck of a lot better,” Piniella said.
“Too many pitches in the middle,” Zambrano said. “They have a good lineup. Against a team like that, you can’t put the ball in the middle. You have to hit the spots and the corner if you want to pitch good against the Braves.” …
Piniella had hoped Zambrano could go three or four innings after the rough first, but the right-hander hit Martin Prado to start the second. Chipper Jones bounced a grounder to second baseman Mike Fontenot, who threw to Zambrano covering at first. But after making the putout, Zambrano threw wildly over Ramirez at third in an attempt to get Prado, who scored on the error. Brian McCann followed with his first homer, off a 2-1 pitch, for an 8-3 Atlanta lead. Again, Zambrano was behind in the count.
“I have the tools to pitch good in April,” Zambrano said. “I just had a bad game. I’ve put it behind me. Today, it happened, I gave up eight runs and like I say, ‘I will concentrate on my next start.’” cubs.com.
All are very mature responses, and as comforting as they can be after a day like yesterday.
I’m not terribly worried about Zambrano. Consider that he was bitten by some bad luck, his velocity seemed good, and he kept himself in control. He just couldn’t hit his spots and couldn’t keep the ball down. As a sinker-baller by trade, Zambrano’s bread is buttered in the bottom of the zone and lower. And ask any pitching coach: sinker-ballers have great difficulty getting maximum sink early in the season. For that reason, Zambrano has almost always struggled in April.