Carlos Zambrano is repairing his image by becoming a staff ace once again.
On June 1, Zambrano (7-5, 4.89 ERA) had his worst outing of the year, both on and off the mound. Besides allowing season highs of seven runs and 13 hits over five innings of a home loss to Atlanta, he got into two fights with catcher Michael Barrett.
One skirmish occurred in the dugout and was caught by television cameras. The other took place in the clubhouse and resulted with Barrett being taken to a hospital for stitches in his lip. Both players were fined by the team, but neither was suspended.
Since then, Zambrano has looked more like the dominating pitcher who led Chicago (31-35) in wins each of the last two seasons. En route to victories over NL Central rivals Milwaukee and Houston, Zambrano surrendered only three runs and eight hits with 17 strikeouts in 14 2-3 innings.
“This is a new season for me,” said Zambrano, who scattered three hits over a season-high eight innings and hit a solo homer in a 2-1 win over the Astros on Monday. “When you have great pitches, and you trust in yourself, you let bad things go and start a new season. That’s what I’m doing now. It’s a new season for me. From here on, I think Big Z is back on track.”
Zambrano has given up just two runs and struck out 31 in his last four appearances against the Padres, pushing his record against them to 4-0 with a 2.17 ERA in six career starts.
He will square off against another pitcher who’s enjoyed recent success, as Chris Young (6-3, 2.34) looks to win his fourth straight road start for the Padres (38-28).
The right-hander was 3-0 with a 1.37 ERA in visiting ballparks during May, allowing just three runs and an opponent batting average of .171 over 19 2-3 innings.
Young is 1-0 with a 2.61 ERA in three career starts versus the Cubs.
He faced Seattle at home on Sunday, and failed to get a decision for the third time in his last four outings overall. Young yielded three runs and seven hits over 6 2-3 innings of a 4-3 loss.
Chicago twice overcame fan interference on Friday to win its third straight game and fourth in the last five. Rookie Mike Fontenot hit a two-run homer and Alfonso Soriano added a solo shot in a three-run sixth to lift the Cubs to 4-1 victory.
The Cubs’ Derrek Lee hit a long liner to left in the fifth that bounced off the fence on top of the wall as a fan stretched for the ball. Replays were inconclusive if the fan had touched the ball and Lee headed into second with a double. Umpires said after the game that Lee’s ball did not clear the wall.
Later, San Diego’s Hiram Bocachica doubled and scored after Adrian Gonzalez hit a high fly to right that Cliff Floyd leaped for but couldn’t catch when another fan reached over the wall before the ball landed in the ivy.
“When you come to the ballpark to watch the game, if the ball goes over and you catch the home run, that’s a home run,” Floyd said. “If it stays in the ball park, you got to get the opportunity to catch the ball, especially your home boys. If it’s them, maybe you reach over. But if it’s us, I need the opportunity to catch the ball.”
Fontenot, who gave the Cubs a 1-0 lead with a fourth-inning sacrifice fly, is hitting .400 (10-for-25) with nine RBIs during a seven-game hitting streak after being recalled from Triple-A Iowa last Saturday.
Lee had three doubles and tied a season high with four hits for Chicago, which has won five of its last six at home. Lee is batting .483 (14-for-29) in eight June home games.
The loss was San Diego’s fifth in seven games.