Uphill climb too steep for rallying Cubs

Uphill climb too steep for rallying Cubs

MILWAUKEE -- The most telling sign for Carlos Zambrano as to what kind of night he was in for may have been when Milwaukee starter Doug Davis recorded his first career double and RBIs on a bloop down the right-field line.

In other words, it just wasn't Zambrano's night.

In the shortest outing of his career, 1 2/3 innings, Zambrano (4-4) gave up eight runs on seven hits in the Cubs' 9-4 loss to the Brewers at Miller Park on Wednesday night.

"When Davis hit that ball down the line, you start thinking maybe it's his night," manager Dusty Baker said. "It was just a bad outing for Carlos. I doubt if you'll see that kind of outing again."

All eight runs came in the second after Zambrano retired the side in the first. Zambrano would face 10 batters in all during the inning, giving up five singles, Davis' double and a three-run homer to Carlos Lee.

Lee started the scoring bonanza by leading off the second with a single to center, and finished off the eight-run inning with his 18th home run of the year.

Lee's big inning continued his hot-hitting trend against the right-hander. Lee is a career 10-for-24 against Zambrano with four doubles and three home runs. Something about the pitcher seems to bring out the best in Lee.

"The way Zambrano pitches and the way his attitude is, he kind of pumps you up a lot more," Lee said. "You want to do good against that guy because you know he's going to be jumping and screaming. That brings a lot of excitement."

Unlike Lee's long bomb over the left-field wall, most of the hits that Zambrano gave up were not hard-hit shots, but flares that seemed to fall in just the right spots. Despite having what even Baker deemed "the worst outing of his career," Zambrano didn't demonstrate too much frustration.

"Sooner or later in your career, you are going to have a game like this," Zambrano said of his outing. "I'm not a perfect machine, not a perfect pitcher, and I knew that sometime in my career I would have a game like this."

Baker couldn't do much but shake his head after the outing. It was the third outing in a row that Zambrano has been unable to go deep into the game. His struggles of late are puzzling to his manager, who feels at a loss as to what exactly is going wrong with his pitcher.

"You got to go back to the drawing board and ask Larry [Rothschild], our pitching coach," Baker said. "He's spent endless hours in the video room trying to find something. I mean, I asked the umpire, Jerry Crawford, what it was, and he said that [Zambrano] was missing off the plate or down the middle. He was throwing hard, maybe overthrowing a bit once he probably got frustrated.

   Carlos Zambrano  /   P
Born: 06/01/81
Height: 6'5"
Weight: 255 lbs
Bats: S / Throws: R

"We were hoping he could get out of that inning," Baker said. "We certainly didn't want to go to our bullpen that quick."

Davis may have had a good night at the plate, but he also fared much better on the mound than Zambrano, giving up three runs on six hits and striking out nine in 6 2/3 innings. The nine strikeouts matched a career high for Davis.

Though Davis looked unstoppable in the early-going, the Cubs did try to make a rally late in the game, led by reliever Rich Hill.

Hill, who replaced Zambrano in the second, made it possible for the Cubs (36-34) to stay in the game as he held the Brewers (32-39) hitless and scoreless for 4 1/3 innings, walking two and striking out six.

Hill's performance on the mound, his longest after being called up on June 15, was a bright spot of the game for Baker.

"He came in, in long relief, and did what your long reliever is supposed to do, come in and put up some zeroes," Baker said of Hill. "That's the best we've seen him. He threw the ball well."

Hill did more than just pitch well, he also managed to get his first Major League hit in the sixth to help start a Cubs rally. Three straight doubles by Neifi Perez, Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez followed Hill's single and helped score three runs for Chicago. The Cubs would score one more in the eighth on Ramirez's second RBI double of the night to make it a 9-4 game, but couldn't manage any more to overcome the large deficit.

"We threatened there, but that was a pretty big lead to overcome," Baker said. "Now, it's just a big game for us to come back and win tomorrow."

A win on Thursday would give the Cubs their first series victory since beating the Red Sox, two games to one, on June 10-12. While the team is focused on the next game, Zambrano has another date circled in his mind, a rematch against Milwaukee at Wrigley Field on Tuesday.

"Let's move on and think about the next start against Milwaukee," Zambrano said. "Hopefully, I will feel much better and make my pitches."

Kelly Thesier is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.