Zambrano set a career high with four hits and struck out six over seven innings en route to his sixth straight win, as the Cubs romped, 12-3, over the Pirates on Friday night.
"That's hard for an everyday player to do, much less a pitcher," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said of Big Z's four-hit effort.
Reed Johnson had three hits, including a three-run homer, and Mark DeRosa drove in three runs, as Chicago pounded a season-high 19 hits and improved to 9-1 against Pittsburgh this season. The Cubs now have outscored the Pirates, 81-41, in the 10 games. But Piniella didn't gloat.
"How do you explain that we've lost 11 in a row to the Florida Marlins?" Piniella said. "Sometimes these things happen. I know when you're on the wrong side, you don't like it. You take away their record against us, and they're above .500."
Zambrano is off to the best start of his career. Now 7-1, he gave up two runs -- both on Nate McLouth's triple in the fifth -- and six hits. He already had a three-hit game this season against Cincinnati on April 16, and is the first Cubs pitcher to notch four since Lew Burdette did so July 23, 1964, against San Francisco. Big Z is batting .343 for the season.
"Somebody told me that," Zambrano said of matching Burdette's feat. "It's a good feeling, and hopefully we can continue to do a good job, and the starting pitching can continue to help themselves and do the job at the plate."
So, did he want to talk about pitching or hitting?
"Pitching," Zambrano said. "That's my job."
"He threw strikes today, had a good fastball, used his breaking ball," Piniella said. "He was aggressive and went after the hitters. He has good stuff -- utilize it, maximize your pitch count so you can go eight innings in a game.
"When it's all said and done," Piniella said, "he's 7-1 for us, and that's a pretty darn good start."
Zambrano is not lobbying to move up in the order.
"When you have [Alfonso] Soriano hitting after you, you're going to see a lot of fastballs," Zambrano said. "You take advantage and hit the ball hard."
He also throws hard.
"He threw the ball very well to start with," Piniella said. "It goes to show you that when he concentrates, what he's capable of doing."
Any questions about Zambrano's neck, shoulder, or any other body part were answered.
"It was reported that he had some stiffness here and stiffness there," Piniella said, "and he disproved everything."
Zambrano walked one batter, and has cut down the number of free passes.
"The whole year, the key has been to throw strikes, first-pitch strikes, and be able to throw good pitches when I'm in trouble," Zambrano said. "That's the key all year long.
"When I feel good, I can challenge the hitter and I can throw my pitches for strikes and be ahead in the count," he said. "I'm not a machine, and sometimes I don't feel good and have to deal with neck pain or something, or my leg doesn't feel good that day, or I'm opening up too soon. I try to do the best to compete and do my job."
Soriano got things started when he doubled to lead off against Zach Duke (2-3), and scored one out later on Derrek Lee's single. Lee advanced on Aramis Ramirez's single, and scored one batter later when Ronny Cedeno was safe on a fielding error by third baseman Doug Mientkiewicz.
Soriano, who was on the disabled list earlier this season with a strained right calf, didn't look comfortable running, and was taken out of the game.
"I talked to him, and it doesn't bother him, but it's a confidence thing," Piniella said. "He doesn't trust it. I said, 'What's wrong?' He said it's confidence. I have to check with his confidence before the ballgame [Saturday]."
The Cubs had Soriano get on the treadmill and do some strength tests after he was pulled from the game.
"I'm more like a little scared because I didn't do anything for two days," he said. "I lost a little confidence. [Saturday], I'll be better. [It is] another day, and I'll be good because I worked today."
"Obviously, he needs to run better," Piniella said.
Johnson, starting in place of Jim Edmonds in center against the lefty Duke, hit two doubles and connected on his second homer in the fifth against Sean Burnett to open an 8-0 lead.
Both managers argued for different reasons after Jason Bay hit the ball off the top of the center-field wall in the fourth. The Pirates' John Russell wanted a home run, and Piniella wanted Bay held up at second because of fan interference. Bay was given a triple because it's up to the umpire's discretion as to where to put the runner.
"[Russell] wanted a home run, and I wanted a double," Piniella said. "We settled for a triple."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.