Brewers-Cubs Preview

Anything would have been an improvement over Carlos Zambrano’s

first start, but the Chicago Cubs had to be especially encouraged

by the way he bounced back from his rocky opening day outing.

He’s got a season’s worth of shaky performances at Wrigley Field

to put behind him.

Zambrano makes his 2010 home debut Thursday afternoon on the

North Side, where he’ll look to help the Cubs finish off a

three-game sweep of the Milwaukee Brewers.

Zambrano (1-1, 11.88 ERA) was rocked April 5 in Atlanta, where

he allowed two homers and eight runs while recording only four outs

in Chicago’s 16-5 loss, leaving the Cubs (4-4) with plenty of

questions about what they could expect from the three-time

All-Star.

The right-hander appeared to answer them Saturday at Cincinnati.

He allowed three runs in the first three innings but settled down

from there, finishing with nine strikeouts over seven innings while

pitching Chicago to a 4-3 victory.

“I think I was fresh from the last time,” Zambrano said.

“Basically, this was my first start. I was excited today. I was

hungry to go out there. My first outing was not good. I was anxious

to go out there and pitch my game, and I did it today.”

Zambrano has been better on the road than at Wrigley throughout

his career. He’s 46-39 with a 3.73 ERA in Chicago but is 60-30 with

a 3.37 ERA in opposing parks, and that contrast was even more

startling in 2009. Zambrano was 7-2 with a 2.73 ERA on the road but

2-5 with a career-worst 5.03 ERA in 13 home outings.

He’s 0-2 with a 4.62 ERA in his last eight starts at Wrigley

against Milwaukee (3-5).

Thursday’s start will be the first of the season for Jeff Suppan

(7-12, 5.29), who opened on the 15-day disabled list with cervical

disc pain.

Suppan’s neck was improving enough last week that he took the

mound Friday for Class A Wisconsin, and he gave up one run and

seven hits over 4 1-3 innings.

“It’s feeling good,” Suppan told the Brewers’ official Web site.

“I think with the treatment I’ve been getting, it feels a lot

better.”

Milwaukee could certainly use a good effort from Suppan

considering the rotation is 1-3 with a 6.09 ERA through eight

starts, and there’s reason to believe he’ll deliver. The

right-hander had a 1.29 ERA despite going 0-1 in two starts at

Wrigley in 2009.

Dave Bush pitched six solid innings Wednesday, but the Brewers’

bullpen let a 6-3 lead slip away. LaTroy Hawkins allowed four runs

to score in the eighth – the last two on Kosuke Fukudome’s two-out

single – in a 7-6 loss.

“It is a concern of ours, giving up runs,” Hawkins said. “But

it’s part of the game. Instead of giving up crooked numbers, we

just got to give up that straight number. One run instead of two or

three runs at a time.”

There are a few Cub hitters Suppan won’t be anxious to see,

including Zambrano, who’s 4 for 9 with three RBIs against him. Of

greater concern might be Derrek Lee, a lifetime .431 hitter with

five homers against Suppan.

Lee was held out of Wednesday’s game because of inflammation in

his right thumb that forced him to leave Monday’s home opener, but

manager Lou Piniella expects him to play Thursday.

Lee, who needs one homer to become the 10th player to hit 100 at

Wrigley Field, hit .357 and had 15 RBIs in eight home games against

Milwaukee in 2009.