Both Milwaukee Brewers staff ace Ben Sheets and Chicago Cubs counterpart Carlos Zambrano have been notoriously slow starters. Sheets, though, is hoping to buck that trend with another impressive performance as the teams continue their three-game series at Miller Park on Saturday.
Sheets (1-0, 1.00 ERA) has a lifetime record of 10-15 with a 4.18 ERA in the month of April, but got the Brewers (2-2) off to a positive start by throwing a two-hitter in Monday’s season-opening 7-1 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The right-hander needed just 104 pitches for his 12th career complete game and, for manager Ned Yost, put aside questions about his ace’s shoulder problems from last season.
“I’m happy finally, hopefully, that now I don’t have to continue answering questions about Ben Sheets’ health,” Yost said. “I think we all saw it for ourselves today.”
Sheets, who has not won two games in the month of April since winning three in 2004, enters this matchup 7-6 with a 3.86 ERA in 18 lifetime starts against the Cubs (2-2). He did not face Chicago last season.
While Sheets starred in Milwaukee’s first game, Zambrano (0-1, 9.00) struggled in Chicago’s 2007 opener. The right-hander battled control problems throughout his loss to the Cincinnati Reds on Monday, giving up five runs and six hits - including a pair of home runs - while walking five in five innings of a 5-1 defeat.
“Not at any time was I frustrated,” said Zambrano, who screamed and waved his arms as he came off the field after the fifth inning. “I made some mistakes early and paid. I was feeling great today. I wish I could feel all year long like I feel today.”
The loss continued Zambrano’s April struggles, dropping him to 7-6 with a 4.23 ERA in 28 career appearances during the month. He failed to win in six April starts last season, but regrouped to post a team-high 16 victories.
Zambrano struggled against the Brewers last season, going 1-2 with a 6.35 ERA in four starts. He is 3-5 lifetime at Milwaukee, where he has lost four of his last five starts over the past two years.
“We came out swinging the bats, and Rich made them hold up,” Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. “That’s what you like to see.”
Aramis Ramirez continued his fast start with two hits, and is 9-for-18 through four games. Last season, the third baseman hit just .197 (14-for-71) in the month of April.
“Don’t try to hit homers every time,” Ramirez told the team’s official Web site about his hitting approach. “I think I’ve got three or four hits to the opposite field, and that’s a sign that you’re not trying to do too much.”
Barrett is 4-for-18 (.222) lifetime against Sheets, while Derrek Lee is 11-for-34 (.324) with five homers and 11 RBIs against the righty.
For Milwaukee, Corey Hart ended Hill’s perfect game bid with a leadoff homer in the sixth, and Kevin Mench added a two-run double. Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder has hit safely in the first four games of the season, but also has struck out at least once in each contest.
He is 4-for-10 with three walks lifetime versus Zambrano.