"I'm ready," Zambrano told reporters.
He'd better be. The Cubs dropped Game 1 of the Division Series, 7-2, on Wednesday and need a victory Thursday against Dodgers righthander Chad Billingsley to avoid a 0-2 deficit with the series shifting to Los Angeles beginning Saturday. First pitch Thursday is set for 8:37 p.m. CDT. Television coverage will be provided by TBS.
Zambrano, the Cubs' opening day starter and most popular pitcher, was 14-6 with a 3.91 ERA in 30 starts during the regular season. He threw a no-hitter on Sept. 14 at Milwaukee's Miller Park against the Houston Astros – displaced because of Hurricane Ike – but struggled in his next two starts.
The right-hander, who was plagued late in the year by shoulder problems, gave up eight runs in just 1-2/3 innings against the Cardinals on Sept. 19 and then lasted only 4-2/3 innings while allowing five runs against the Mets on Sept. 24.
Chicago manager Lou Piniella wanted Zambrano to start last Sunday's regular-season finale at Milwaukee, but Zambrano politely refused.
"I think this ballclub needs me to be fresh, so that's why I didn't pitch Sunday," said Zambrano. "We were in the playoffs already, so we didn't need that game. Why take some risk in that game?"
He said the key to success in Thursday's start against the Dodgers is throwing first-pitch strikes and getting ahead of hitters – a task all the more magnified after Game 1 starter Ryan Dempster walked seven batters Wednesday before giving up a back-breaking grand slam to James Loney in the fifth inning.
Zambrano said he agreed with Piniella's decision to have Dempster (17-6, 2.96 ERA in the regular season) start Game 1 of the playoffs.
"I just want to be there and play for my team, and I just want to help my team win everything," Zambrano said.
Temperatures in Chicago are forecast in the upper 40's to low 50's Thursday, but Zambrano said the weather will not affect the way he prepares for the game.
"When I start warming up, I don't feel that cold," he said. "It can be 20 degrees and I don't feel it."
He said his last two starts were in the past and refused to say he felt anxious to get back on the mound.
"This is a new age, a new stage for the Cubs, new ballgame, new team," Zambrano said. "I just have to go out there and try to do my job and have fun."
Zambrano Seeks to Get Cubs Back on Track
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