Zambrano Remains Confident

Carlos Zambrano is still considered the ace of the Cubs staff, but he is off to a sluggish start.

Zambrano is 0-1 with a 4.86 ERA in his first three starts, and he struggled Thursday, giving up five runs in six innings in an 8-3 loss to Cincinnati.

He allowed five runs on four hits with three walks, a hit batter, a balk and two home runs. He was rattled in the third inning after he was called for a balk with opposing pitcher Eric Milton at first. Zambrano hit Ryan Freel and allowed a three-run homer to Felipe Lopez.

"It's been weird," Zambrano said. "But I have 30 more starts to go. It's not how you start, it's how you finish."

REPLAY: The Cubs were drilled 8-3 by Cincinnati on Thursday and dropped two out of three to the Reds at Wrigley Field.

But thanks to their weekend sweep of St. Louis, the Cubs have some solace. They won their first homestand of the year and had they had their first winning homestand since July 14-17. They had gone five straight homestands without a .500-plus record until this one.

It's a small step, but an important one because the Cubs want to improve on last year's 38-43 mark at home.

NOTES, QUOTES

--LHP Will Ohman, whom the Cubs were hoping could become a dependable reliever to get one or two batters out in pressure situations, has given up seven runs in his last two appearances, covering two-thirds of an inning. With RHPs Roberto Novoa and Dave Aardsma waiting in the wings at Triple-A Iowa, Ohman could be on thin ice if he doesn't turn it around soon.

--LF Matt Murton batted cleanup for the first time this season Thursday because of the hamstring injury to 3B Aramis Ramirez and manager Dusty Baker's decision to rest C Michael Barrett. Murton responded by hitting his second home run of the season in an 8-3 loss to Cincinnati. He was 2-for-4 with two RBIs.

--RF Jacque Jones has a mild right hamstring strain and missed his second straight game Thursday. Manager Dusty Baker doubts Jones will be able to play in the weekend series against Pittsburgh.

--3B Aramis Ramirez has a slight strain in his upper left hamstring area and missed his second straight game Thursday. Manager Dusty Baker hopes he will be able to play in Friday's series opener at Pittsburgh.

--C Michael Barrett, who leads the club with 13 RBIs, sat out Thursday's game against Cincinnati to give backup Henry Blanco a chance to play.

BY THE NUMBERS: 25 -- Players who showed up at Great American Ball Park on the off day April 4 for a voluntary workout.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I said, 'Hey, how are you doing, my name is Todd Walker.' And he said, 'Hey, Tom, how are you?' I guess I didn't make too good of an impression." -- Cubs second baseman Todd Walker on meeting President Bush before the April 3 season opener in Cincinnati.


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