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Cubs dealt loss after ominous start

Cubs dealt loss after ominous start

DENVER -- The Cubs' long weekend in Colorado started on short notice Friday night as they opened a four-game series with the Rockies with a bit of bad news that changed the complexion of the day. Scheduled starter Carlos Zambrano was a last-minute scratch with lower back stiffness, and lefty Sean Marshall was called on to make a spot-start with about 15 minutes' notice.

The Rockies took advantage of Chicago's scramble, touching Marshall for three runs in the first inning and dealing a 6-2 loss to the short-handed Cubs. Marshall had been used entirely as a reliever since the end of May, and if nothing else, the on-call nature of the bullpen prepared him to be mentally ready to answer.

"I was still in the process of getting dressed, so I rushed to get dressed and get loose," Marshall said. "I felt good. I'm used to getting up and getting myself ready to pitch to one hitter when I get that phone call ring. That wasn't the tough part. The tough part was getting those guys out, and I didn't do a very good job of it. Hopefully we can do a better job next time."

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Chicago got on the scoreboard in the first inning, making the most of a revamped lineup that saw Milton Bradley elevated to the two-hole while freshly activated Geovany Soto hit fifth and Ryan Theriot slid down to the eight-spot. Kosuke Fukudome led off with a walk and Bradley followed with a single to right. Derrek Lee grounded into a double play, but was able to plate Fukudome for the early lead.

After striking out leadoff hitter Dexter Fowler in the bottom of the first, Marshall yielded four consecutive hits to Carlos Gonzalez, Todd Helton, Troy Tulowitzki and Brad Hawpe as the Rockies put up three quick runs and established a lead they never relinquished.

"They did a good job against me by battling," Marshall said. "I was looking at a chart, and they fouled off 20 balls in two innings and made me throw 62 pitches. They did that and got themselves a couple pitches to hit and put the ball in play and made it happen. I feel bad. I got the team in a hole."

Marshall lasted two innings, facing three batters in the second and benefiting from an inning-ending 9-2 double play when right fielder Bradley threw out Fowler as he tried to score from third on a flyout. Jeff Samardzija came on for four frames, eating innings in his longest appearance of the season but yielding a two-run homer into the right-field bullpen from Chris Iannetta in the fourth.

"It was a tough spot [for Marshall]," manager Lou Piniella said. "It wasn't easy. Give a guy a ball who's been in your bullpen, give him a ball 15 minutes before a ballgame starts. Not the easiest way in the world to get prepared to pitch."

The Cubs struggled against Ubaldo Jimenez, collecting more walks than hits against the Rockies' starter. They staged a sixth-inning rally started by Bradley's second walk of the night. Lee kept it alive on a grounder to short that looked like a double-play ball until Rockies second baseman Omar Quintanilla dropped the throw from Tulowitzki. Aramis Ramirez and Soto both struck out, but Alfonso Soriano blooped a single into shallow center to drive home Bradley. The rally was thwarted when Mike Fontenot went down swinging to end the inning.

"He kind of went in and out with his command, but his stuff is really good stuff and he's able to get away with it," Lee said of Jimenez. "He's throwing about 99 mph with movement. It's not that easy to square up. He's just a tough at-bat."

Zambrano will head home to Chicago on Saturday for an MRI and further evaluation, and the uncertainty of his situation coupled with a bullpen night in the opener of a four-game series in a ballpark that challenges pitchers in the best of circumstances could push the Cubs to consider a roster move to bolster the pitching staff.

"It's going to help us out in the next few games, because Marshall and Samardzija threw a lot of pitches," Iannetta said. "They will probably be down a few days, which limit their options. If we do a good job of getting the pitcher's pitch count up tomorrow, then we'll get into their bullpen again. Then, it will look really good for us in the last two games of the series."

On a day when the Cubs were looking forward to the return of Soto from the DL, they absorbed the news of yet another injury in a season plagued by them.

"It's tough getting everybody healthy," Marshall said. "Life's throwing us curves. It's just the way the game is sometimes. It's a grind. It's 162 games and 185 days. There's not many left, and the season's getting down to the end, but we're in a good spot to hopefully clinch the division and get back in the playoffs."

The loss dropped the Cubs out of first place as St. Louis won in Pittsburgh, taking a one-game lead in the division.

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

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