Zambrano, Harden Aching

After a day of speculation, the Chicago Cubs finally got word on what has been ailing ace right-hander Carlos Zambrano.

Right-hander Carlos Zambrano was examined by a team doctor on Wednesday and had an MRI on Thursday, which revealed inflammation and rotator cuff tendinitis. The shoulder has bothered him off and on this year. He reportedly received a shot of anti-inflammatory medication and is hopeful of returning to the rotation sometime next week.

Zambrano left Tuesday night's game after five innings because the shoulder acted up.

"Obviously, you're concerned," manager Lou Piniella said before Zambrano's test results were back.

"He's a top-notch pitcher. Believe me, we sent him out there thinking that he was perfectly fine to go out there. If not, we wouldn't have sent him out there."

Right-hander Rich Harden and the Cubs both admitted Harden is experiencing some "discomfort" in his right shoulder, which had him on the disabled list for a month earlier this year when he was with Oakland. Injuries caused him to miss much of the 2005, 2006 and 2007 seaosns. For that reason, Harden's next start probably will come Sept. 10, on 11 days of rest.

Piniella was cryptic Tuesday in his comments about Harden, and Harden seemed taken aback that reporters wanted to question him again. Harden has not started since last Friday. The Cubs say their plan since they acquired Harden in July was to take it easy on him and that the long interval between starts shouldn't be viewed as unusual.

Harden has thrown 131 innings this season, the most he has thrown since 2004, when he pitched in 189.2 innings for the A's.

ASTROS 4, CUBS 0: The Cubs lost their fifth consecutive game, matching a season high. They were shut out for the second time in that streak, both times at the hands of the Astros. RHP Ryan Dempster (15-6) turned in his 19th quality start, working seven innings and giving up three runs. He gave up a two-run homer to Ty Wigginton in the fifth inning. The Cubs were out-hit 10-6, with 2B Ronny Cedeno being the only Cubs with two hits.

News and Notes

--RHP Kevin Hart was recalled from Class AAA Iowa to lend a hand in the bullpen. Hart was not expected to be called up until Iowa was done with the playoffs. In three previous stints with the Cubs this year, Hart was 2-1 with a 7.91 ERA. He worked as a starter and as a reliever at Iowa. RHP Chad Gaudin has been unavailable because of lower back soreness.

--LHP Sean Marshall is scheduled to start Sunday's series finale at Cincinnati. That was RHP Carlos Zambrano's turn in the rotation. Marshall threw a side session Wednesday. He worked 5 1/3 innings Sunday, giving up nine hits and five runs in a 5-3 loss to the Phillies.

--C Geovany Soto extended his hitting streak to seven games. He is 14-for-30 (.467) during the streak. Soto had an eight-game hitting streak in late April and early May.

--LF Alfonso Soriano extended his hitting streak to four games, but he's only 4-for-18 in the streak. He also finished the homestand 6-for-30 (.200).

--RHP Ryan Dempster laid down his major league-leading 18th sacrifice bunt, extending his Cubs franchise record.

BY THE NUMBERS: 11 -- The Cubs entered September having gone 11 series without dropping a series. They were 9-0-2 in those series, having split a pair of four-gamers.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I don't believe in destiny. I believe in good pitching and good defense and timely hitting. That's destiny. You do enough of that, you create your own destiny." -- Manager Lou Piniella.

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