"We sent him home," said Cubs manager Lou Piniella. "He came in and did some work around 1, 1:30 [p.m.], got some throwing in, a little running in, and he went home."
Also in line with the new season is Zambrano's new batterymate, Koyie Hill, who will start against the Astros on Monday night. But any correlation between the June 1 altercation between Michael Barrett and Zambrano at Wrigley Field and Hill's second consecutive start catching Zambrano is being called completely coincidental.
"We're going to be coming in [to Chicago] at 2 in the morning," explained Piniella, who later added, "Sometimes pitchers feel more comfortable with a particular catcher. If it works and you're winning with consistency with that combination why change it?"
"That stuff happens, and to be honest with you, I don't think it's that big of a deal," added the 28-year-old Hill, who was signed last November as a Minor League free agent, after limited exposure with the Dodgers in 2003 and the Diamondbacks in '04 and '05. "Guys just get [upset] and it happens. It's unfortunate, but it happens.
"[Barrett] can't catch every game," Hill added. "I'm going to catch 'Z,' give him a break. It has nothing to do with what happened. It's just his turn. We're going to get in late [Sunday night], we have a night game, and that's how I look at it, how [Barrett] looks at it, how [Zambrano] looks at it and how Lou looks at it."
In Hill's first game catching Zambrano, the enigmatic righty allowed only two runs and five hits in 6 2/3 innings, chalking up a season-high nine strikeouts against the Brewers.
"He was throwing the fastball and it was like four different pitchers at times," said Hill, who is hitting .083 (1-for-12) in four games in '07. "I'm amazed that he can throw a ball straight, as much movement as he has on his ball. He's got so much life and he's able to manipulate the ball so well. I want him to do whatever he wants and really take advantage of the confidence that he has in all that stuff to do it."
"I think he has the confidence in me," Hill added. "I think he knows I'm capable of doing a good job and I'm out there for him. Zambrano has so much confidence that it really doesn't matter what you hold down. He's like 'Fine, I'll throw that. OK, I'll throw that.' You just want to make sure you guide him in the direction where he'll have success."
A Lee-ttle help, please ... While Derrek Lee had two hits Saturday night, he was still mired in a 4-for-25 slump on the road trip and hasn't homered since the third inning of a 10-1 romp over Atlanta at Wrigley Field on June 3, a string of 30 at-bats.
"I don't know," said Piniella when asked about his first baseman's recent plate woes. "Once we lost Ramirez, he's not getting as many good pitches to hit. The other day they walked him intentionally and they're not giving in to him. To compound that, we lost Floyd, too, who I was going to put behind him."
Of course, even with a 23-point drop in average over the last week, Lee still came into Sunday's game hitting .338.
Sweet 3,000th: Piniella joined some elite company Sunday night, as he managed his 3,000th Major League game.
"It's a long time," said Piniella, who added with a laugh, "It feels like four [thousand]."
Piniella became the 17th manager to reach 3,000 games and is only the fourth active manager to achieve that plateau, joining the Cardinals' Tony La Russa (4,345), the Braves' Bobby Cox (3,923), and the Yankees' Joe Torre (3,741).
In his 20 years at the helm, "Sweet Lou" has managed the Yankees (1986-88), Reds (1990-92), Mariners (1993-2002) and Devil Rays (2003-05). He won a World Series with the 1990 Reds and is the only man to manage two wire-to-wire division winners (the '90 Reds and '01 Mariners).
"I'm proud of [reaching 3,000 games]," he said. "I've had the good fortune of managing a lot of good teams and a lot of great players."
What a debut: Reliever Sean Gallagher, who was a little over three months old when Piniella made his Major League managerial debut with the Yankees on April 8, 1986, probably can't fathom 3,000 Major League games, especially if they're all like his Major League debut Saturday night.
"I was sitting there, and all of a sudden, the bullpen phone rings," recalled Gallagher, who was called up from Double-A Tennessee prior to Thursday's game in Milwaukee. "I'm thinking, 'If it's for anybody, it's for me. I'm the long guy.' Sure enough, [bullpen coach Lester Strode] picked up the phone and said, 'You're up. Start getting ready.'"
Gallagher fought off what he said felt like "a million" butterflies and allowed three hits and two earned runs in 3 1/3 innings, a season-high for a Cubs reliever.
But his eventful night didn't end at the mound.
"I did everything you could," he said with a laugh. "I walked a pitcher, which I don't think I've ever done before, I got hit by a pitch in my first big league at-bat. I did it all. I'm glad I got all that out of the way, I gave up my first home run and everything. Now all that's gone. I can only go up hill from here."
About his only regret, besides the fourth-inning hanging curve that Atlanta shortstop Edgar Renteria hit for a two-run homer, was that he can't show off the bruise on his left tricep from the hit-by-pitch, as it's covered by his elaborate, multi-colored robot tattoo.
Minor matters: Cubs Minor League affiliates went 2-2 on Saturday night, as the Triple-A Iowa Cubs and Double-A Tennessee Smokies, both in first in their leagues, took it on the chin, while the Class A Daytona Cubs and Peoria Chiefs chalked up victories.
One night after giving up 18 runs in a loss to New Orleans, the Iowa Cubs fell to Zephyrs, 19-4. Starter John Webb (1-3) took the loss, allowing eight runs, four earned, in 3 1/3 innings. Left fielder Alberto Garcia, shortstop Scott Moore and right fielder Micah Hoffpauir each had two hits for the Cubs. For Garcia, it was his second straight two-hit game. Lefty Clay Rapada was the only one of six Cubs pitchers not to surrender a run.
Tennessee dropped a 5-4 decision to the Carolina, despite center fielder Sam Fuld's three hits and two RBIs. Left fielder Jorge Cortes added two hits and an RBI, and shortstop Joe Simokaitis drew three walks and scored three runs. Righty Mark Holliman (6-4) took the loss, allowing four earned runs and seven hits in six innings.
In Daytona, the homestanding Cubs broke open a 2-1 game with nine eighth-inning runs in downing Clearwater, 11-1. Left fielder Jesus Valdez went 3-for-4 with an RBI, while center fielder Tyler Colvin was 2-for-5 with two RBIs (his 45 are second in the Florida State League, two behind the leader) and two runs scored. First baseman Brian Dopirak blasted a three-run homer, his second round-tripper in as many days, to begin the eighth-inning onslaught. Righty Mitch Atkins (5-3) earned the win, allowing one earned runa nd six hits in six innings.
Peoria snapped a two-game losing streak by beating Clinton, 4-2. Right-hander Robert Hernandez (2-1) allowed one run and three hits over five innings to get the win and lefty Jeremy Papelbon earned his second save, throwing 2 2/3 innings allowing a solo homer and a walk, while striking out three. First baseman Russ Canzler went 2-for-4 with an RBI. Right fielder Yusuf Carter homered and shortstop Dylan Johnston added an RBI doble in the sixth to open up a 4-1 lead.
On deck: On Monday, the Cubs host the Astros in makeup game for the April 11 snowout. Zambrano (6-5, 5.38) takes the ball for the Cubs against righty Woody Williams (2-8, 5.79). First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. CT.
Jon Cooper is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.