Zambrano, who’s unexpectedly been the early ace of the Cubs’ vaunted starting staff, is 5-1 over his last nine starts with a 1.95 ERA.
In a 4-2 win over Houston on Tuesday, the 23-year-old right-hander scattered six hits, struck out four and walked four over six innings, but didn’t receive a decision.
“I was throwing hard but I didn’t have the location I wanted,” Zambrano said. “I think I tried to do too much today to win the game.”
After having their six-game winning streak snapped with a 2-1 loss in the series opener on Friday, the Cubs bounced back with a dramatic 4-3 victory in the middle game on Saturday.
“It’s just a shame that Mulder went out there and just absolutely gave his heart and soul,” Oakland manager Ken Macha said.
Besides getting hot, the Cubs are also getting healthy. A day after Sammy Sosa came back after missing a month with a sprained back ligament, second baseman Mark Grudzielanek returned Saturday from the 15-day disabled list. Grudzielanek had been on the disabled list since April 10 with inflammation of his right Achilles’ tendon. Grudzielanek doubled in four at-bats.
The Athletics, meanwhile, have dropped four of five following a season-high eight-game winning streak.
Zito, who hasn’t lost since April 29, is coming off a shaky outing in an 8-4 loss to St. Louis on Tuesday.
The crafty left-hander had trouble with his control, throwing 115 pitches in five innings. Heavily emphasizing his curve, Zito gave up two earned runs and seven hits, while striking out eight.
“I had nothing tonight,” Zito said. “The outs weren’t coming quick at all. Guys were working the counts and there were tons of foul balls, and whenever you have that combination you’re looking for a high pitch count.”
The 2002 AL Cy Young Award winner has lasted only five innings in each of his last two outings, including giving up five runs in a win over Cincinnati on June 8.
STANDINGS (through June 18): Athletics - 1st place, AL West. Cubs - 2nd place (tied), 3 GB, NL Central.
ATHLETICS PROBABLE STARTER: Zito (4-3, 4.67 ERA). Zito, who is making his first appearance against the Cubs, is 3-1 on the road with a 3.98 ERA.
CUBS PROBABLE STARTER: Zambrano (7-2, 2.32 ERA). Zambrano, who has never faced the A’s, is 4-0 with an 1.66 ERA at Wrigley Field.
OFFENSIVE LEADERS: Athletics - Scott Hatteberg, .327 avg.; Jermaine Dye and Eric Chavez, 13 HRs; Dye, 42 RBIs and 47 runs; Eric Byrnes, 9 SBs. Cubs - Aramis Ramirez, .317 avg.,49 RBIs and 51 runs; Moises Alou, 16 HRs; Corey Patterson, 9 SBs.
INTERLEAGUE RECORD: Athletics, 7-4, Cubs, 3-2.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Athletics - OF Dye is 7-for-14 over his last four games. … The Athletics have 13 blown saves this season. … Oakland has lost nine of 11 on the road. Cubs - The Cubs are 8-2 over a stretch of 10 straight games allowing five runs or fewer. … 1B Derrek Lee, who went 4-for-4 on Saturday, is 8-for-12 (.667) over his last three games. … 3B Ramirez is 0-for-9 over his last three games.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Athletics - 15-18 on the road; Cubs - 19-15 at home.
INJURIES: Athletics - 3B Chavez (hand), 15-day DL; 2B Mark Ellis (shoulder), 15-day DL; OF Billy McMillon (back), 15-day DL. Cubs - RHP Joe Borowski (shoulder), 15-day DL; RHP Todd Wellemeyer (shoulder), 15-day DL; RHP Kerry Wood (triceps), 15-day DL; RHP Ryan Dempster (elbow), 60-day DL; SS Alex Gonzalez (wrist), 60-day DL.