Notes: Zambrano deal appears likely

Notes: Big Z deal appears likely

CINCINNATI -- Carlos Zambrano could get a new contract soon.

Cubs general manager Jim Hendry and Zambrano's agent, Barry Praver, spent a lot of time together in Las Vegas, where the team wrapped up the exhibition season, to discuss a possible contract extension for the right-hander. Talks were tabled until after Monday's game against the Cincinnati Reds, which Zambrano started.

"We certainly want him here," Hendry said Monday. "Barry Praver has made it very clear that [Zambrano] wants to stay here. We'll do our best to try to work it out."

Since joining the Cubs rotation prior to the 2002 season, Zambrano has posted a 3.19 ERA in 113 starts, and averaged more than 6.6 innings per start. He's been the horse of the staff, and a pitcher the Cubs don't want to let get away.

"Sometimes these deals take longer than others, but when both sides feel strongly about getting something done, it usually gets worked out," Hendry said.

Cubs manager Lou Piniella wasn't worried about the contract talks being a distraction.

"He's ready to go," Piniella said of Big Z, who was making his third consecutive Opening Day start. "He told me today he didn't want too many bunt signs, he wanted to swing the bat a little bit.

"This guy could be the ace on a lot of staffs," Piniella said. "He's a competitor."

Zambrano also changed his style, and was wearing the traditional gray top Monday rather than the blue jersey he has worn in years past.

After Monday's game, which the Cubs and Zambrano lost, 5-1, to the Reds, the right-hander said he wasn't thinking about his potential new deal or the sale of the team.

"There's nothing I can do about it," Zambrano said. "Like Mark [Prior] said, I'm just an employee here. I just have to keep pitching my game and do my job here."

Butterflies: Hendry was wearing the same suit he's worn for Opening Day the last two years. Yes, he's had it cleaned in between. It's part of Opening Day magic.

"If you're not a little bit nervous and feel butterflies, there's something wrong with you," Hendry said. "There's a great part of our lives invested in this. It's only one out of 162 [games], but you get that anxiety to start playing games that count."

opening day 2007

Piniella admitted he was a little nervous, too.

"If you don't get butterflies on Opening Day, something's wrong," Piniella said. "I'm with a new team, but I've always gotten nervous for Opening Day when I play and every year I manage. It's part of the ritual."

Piniella managed the 1990 Cincinnati Reds to the World Series. Is the 2007 Cubs his best team since?

"I had some good teams in Seattle," Piniella said. "We never made it to a World Series, but those kids played hard and played to win and knew how to play. We won 116 games over there one year.

"Our Cubs team is talented. On paper, on the field, it's a talented team. You've got to take this thing a step further and you have to grind every day. That was my message to the team today. If you want to win you have to get after it every day and make sacrifices. Losing is easy, winning is hard. Once you get in that habit of winning, boy, it's a fun thing to do."

New owner: Alfonso Soriano was asked what he thought about the pending sale of the Cubs by the Tribune Co., announced hours before the season opener on Monday.

"I don't know," Soriano said. "It's my job to go out there 162 games and do what I do."

He signed an eight-year, $136 million deal with the Cubs. Maybe he'd consider buying the team?

"No -- too many responsibilities," Soriano said.

Did you know: Piniella is the Cubs' 50th manager. The previous 49 are a combined 30-19 in their debuts with the team. If you include the College of Coaches, then the 55 "skippers" are a combined 32-23 in their first game leading the team.

Nine of the last 10 Cubs managers made their debut on the road, and are 7-3. Tom Trebelhorn is the only one of that group to manage their first game for the Cubs at Wrigley Field.

Arizona foothills: Cubs pitcher Rich Hill, who will start Friday in Milwaukee, was scheduled to throw Sunday in Mesa, Ariz., in a Minor League game. His session lasted one inning, and was cut short because of a blister on the middle finger of his left hand.

"It'll be all right," Hill said. "It happened twice last year."

The problem is that spot is the last part of his hand that touches the ball. He was not going to pick up a baseball Monday, and try to play catch on Tuesday.

"I just couldn't get enough of Arizona," Hill said.

Extra bases: Hendry had no update on what Kerry Wood was up to, pitching wise. Wood remained in Arizona to continue his rehab. Prior reported to extended Spring Training in Arizona. He did not make the Iowa Cubs roster, but is expected to remain in Arizona until his pitch count reaches a level that will allow him to be a starter for the Iowa team. ... Henry Blanco is expected to go to Key West, Fla., on Tuesday's off-day. He was subpoenaed to appear as a prosecution witness in a federal trial involving one of his agents, who is charged with conspiring to smuggle Cuban baseball players into the United States. "I just want to get it out of the way," Blanco said Monday. Blanco hopes to be back in time for Wednesday's game. Matt Murton would be the backup catcher if needed. ... Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee is healthy and eager to get going. "The wrist is a non-issue," Lee said. "I don't even feel it. It's time to go." ... Jason Marquis will close this series Thursday against Cincinnati's Kyle Lohse.

On deck: Ted Lilly will make his Cubs debut Wednesday when he starts the second game of the three-game series against the Reds. Lilly hasn't pitched in the National League since 1999, when he made his Major League debut with Montreal. The lefty, who signed a four-year, $40 million deal with the Cubs this offseason, has never faced the Reds.

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.