Zambrano will try to end a frustrating losing streak Saturday and help the Cubs regain sole possession of first place in the NL Central when they continue their three-game series at Pittsburgh’s PNC Park.
Zambrano (14-12, 4.35 ERA) was roughed up for a career high-tying eight earned runs in 4 1-3 innings of Monday’s 11-3 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers in his shortest outing since going just four innings against Cincinnati on April 13. Zambrano raised his ERA to 9.56 in three starts since the Cubs (71-69) gave him a $91.5 million, five-year contract extension through 2012, and fell to 0-5 with an 8.29 ERA in six starts since beating the Reds on July 29.
The performance drew a chorus of boos from the fans at Chicago’s Wrigley Field, and Zambrano wasn’t pleased with their reaction.
“I don’t understand why the fans were booing at me. I can’t understand that,” he said. “They showed me today they just care about them. That’s no fair. Because when you are struggling, that’s when you want to feel, the support of the fans.”
Zambrano publicly apologized to the fans for his comments the following day and also met with manager Lou Piniella and pitching coach Larry Rothschild. Piniella wouldn’t say specifically what they discussed with the temperamental right-hander in the meeting.
“We told him to relax and pitch,” Piniella told the Cubs’ official team Web site. “We talked about quite a few things, but that’s between us. I’m looking forward to seeing him pitch on Saturday in Pittsburgh.”
The Cubs could use a strong outing from their No. 1 starter. Friday’s series-opening, 6-1 loss to the last-place Pirates (62-79) was their fourth in five games and kept them tied for first place in the NL Central with Milwaukee, which lost at Cincinnati. St. Louis is just one game back.
Chicago has managed just 10 runs in its last four defeats and was coming off Thursday’s demoralizing 7-4 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers in which closer Ryan Dempster yielded four ninth-inning runs.
“Right now, every game counts. We’ve got 22 games left,” said left fielder Alfonso Soriano, who went 0-for-5 after homering twice Thursday. “We are tied for first place, so hopefully we’ll play better tomorrow.”
Zambrano could have a tough time rebounding against the Pirates, as he is 0-4 with a 6.26 ERA in five starts against them since 2006. In 18 career appearances - 16 starts - against Pittsburgh, he is 7-6 with a 4.19 ERA.
However, Zambrano is 9-4 with a 3.56 ERA in 14 road starts this season and 4-1 with a 4.13 ERA in 10 career appearances - nine starts - at PNC Park.
Pittsburgh left fielder Jason Bay is 12-for-33 (.364) with five homers and four doubles all-time against him.
Pirates shortstop Jack Wilson went 3-for-4 with a homer and three RBIs Thursday and is 14-for-20 (.700) over his last five games.
“It’s just like when you go into a bad slump. You don’t always know why you’re doing it but you hope to keep it going,” Wilson said.
The Pirates, who fired general manager Dave Littlefield earlier in the day, are three losses shy of a 15th consecutive losing season. Still, they have won 12 of their last 17 against the Cubs and seven of 10 at home.
They will give the ball to Ian Snell (9-11, 4.01), who is coming off just his second win in 11 starts. He threw seven innings and walked a season-high five batters in Monday’s 11-0 win at St. Louis, bouncing back after yielding a season-worst seven earned runs in his previous start against Cincinnati.
Monday’s win was Snell’s first on the road since April 16, but he is 7-5 with a 4.02 ERA in 14 starts at home this season.
He is 1-3 with a 5.65 ERA in seven career appearances, including five starts, against the Cubs. Snell has started against them twice this season, both times in May, going 0-1 with a 4.50 ERA.