Zambrano raring to go for Opening Day

Zambrano raring to go for Opening Day

MESA, Ariz. -- Carlos Zambrano has been doing his homework in preparation for his Opening Day start Monday in Atlanta.

The Cubs right-hander, who will make his sixth straight Opening Day, was able to list most of the Braves' starting lineup and the rotation.

"I've been watching the Braves all Spring Training and they look like they're ready," Zambrano said Wednesday after his last spring start, "but I'm ready, too. We're ready for them and they're ready for us, so let's rock and roll."

Big Z tuned up by throwing four innings against the Angels at HoHoKam Park but was outdueled as Jered Weaver struck out nine over five innings in an 11-0 victory.

"He's thrown the ball well here in camp, he's nice and healthy, he's been stretched out really well," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said of Zambrano. "He's ready to go. We're pleased. He's been working hard on his breaking ball and thrown some changeups and he's had good life on his fastball."

Every spring, Zambrano says he's more mature, he's going to settle down and keep his emotions in check.

"He tells me he's changed," Piniella said.

Does he believe his pitcher?

"To me that means there might be a little slippage at times," Piniella said. "Let's not expect perfection. I see a guy who is really focused and has really worked hard and he's been under good control."

Zambrano, who is coming off a disappointing 9-7 season, is focused on 200-plus innings. He's topped that figure five times in his career.

"That's the goal for this year," he said. "A month ago, Greg Maddux came to me and told me to put in my mind 215 innings, 220 innings, and that's what I want to do. I want to throw more than 220 innings and build my arm strength."

Maddux, an assistant to Cubs general manager Jim Hendry, has been available for Zambrano and all the other pitchers.

"Thank God he's here and helped not only me but anybody who needs some tips or needs to chat with him," Zambrano said.

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One thing the right-hander wasn't able to accomplish this spring was to drop another five pounds. He reported about 15 pounds lighter and looking very trim.

"I have to keep myself in better shape during the season," Zambrano said. "That's another challenge that I have. I think so far I've been mentally prepared and mentally ready to enter the season with a much better weight. Like Larry [Rothschild, pitching coach] told me the other day, 'You just have to keep yourself in shape and you will be good.'"

Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins was the last Cubs pitcher to start six Opening Days.

"It's a privilege, especially with so many good pitchers that we have on this team," Zambrano said. "Who knows? [Randy] Wells in three, four, five years may be the Opening Day starter. ... If I'm not here, [Ryan] Dempster's not here ... who knows? [Jeff] Samardzija or Wells or anybody could be the No. 1 starter of this team. They have the arm and the ability to do it."

Zambrano can worry about that next year.

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