Notes: Rotation revolves around Big Z
Hill extends outing with simulation; Cedeno answers challenge
MESA, Ariz. -- The Cubs are setting up their rotation around Opening Day starter Carlos Zambrano.
Zambrano went six innings in the Cubs' 6-2 win Friday over the San Francisco Giants, and he will open the season April 2 in Cincinnati. If there are no rainouts or changes, Zambrano would get six starts in April, as will Ted Lilly, Jason Marquis and Rich Hill. Whoever the fifth starter is will get four starts in the first 30 days of the season.
"We're going to pitch around Zambrano," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said, pulling a Gatorade-stained sheet of paper from his office garbage can that outlined his notes on the rotation through the May 1 game at Pittsburgh.
"The only concern," Piniella said, "is our fourth starter gets back-to-back starts against St. Louis, which we don't like, and we may do something about that."
Everything is subject to change. What the Cubs don't want to alter is how well Zambrano is pitching. The right-hander gave up one run on four hits and one walk while striking out five on Friday.
"I'm ready for the season, I'm ready for Opening Day," Zambrano said. "One thing I've been doing differently this year is attacking the hitters, and no matter what happens I have to throw the ball over the plate. I figured out that the pitch that's the hardest to hit is the fastball. I'm throwing more fastballs than breaking pitches right now, but I still have to make my pitches."
He threw 94 pitches, and his next outing will be Wednesday in the Minor League camp. He's being skipped in Cactus League play to give Mark Prior the start.
As far as a possible contract extension, Zambrano said he's leaving that in his agent's hands.
"I'm focused on the season, and I don't have to worry about anything else," he said.
Virtual baseball: Rich Hill threw 17 pitches in Thursday's game between the Cubs and San Diego Padres before rain stopped play. That wasn't enough, so Hill stayed in the Padres' facility in Peoria, Ariz., and threw 60 more pitches. He was covered under a canopy and the catcher was covered, but the rain was swirling around them because of high winds.
"It was like a monsoon," Hill said.
Pitching coach Larry Rothschild stood in as the hitter.
"Larry was standing in there, and he worked both sides [of the plate], the whole lineup," Hill said. "He didn't get a hit but I walked him twice. We'd sit down and play the rest of the game."
They didn't actually play, they just pretended to.
"[Matt] Murton lined out to third base one time to end the inning," Hill said. "[Derrek Lee] hit a home run. Actually, Murton, the second time up, hit a home run. It was pretty funny.
"We're sitting there watching the rain, but thinking about what would've happened as the game unfolded," Hill said. "Greg [Maddux] had a good changeup working the rest of the game, so we had a lot of groundouts."
Hill has had a weird spring. He threw one game in the Minor League complex to get on track for the regular season, he's thrown a virtual game in the rain, and he'll finish spring with one more game in Arizona on April 1 before joining the rest of the team for Opening Day in Cincinnati.
"It'd be nice to pitch in a normal game," he said.
Catching up: Coach Matt Sinatro had an early one-on-one session with Michael Barrett at HoHoKam Park recently to discuss the Cubs catcher's approach.
"When you pick up the bat, everything is all about being the best hitter you can be, and carrying that over into the team aspect," Barrett said. "At this point in my career, I have to extend that into my catching.
"I think that's the biggest thing I want to accomplish, and I think Matt will help me accomplish that this year," Barrett said. "We might not get it in April or May. To take that mentality, whenever I put on the gear, we go all out. I have to have the mentality to be as good a catcher as I can be."
Highlight play: Did you see the barehanded grab shortstop Ronny Cedeno made of Sammy Sosa's grounder on Wednesday? Cubs bench coach Alan Trammell did.
"When I saw him go after the ground ball, the way he was setting up, he was coming in like a cat," Trammell said. "He was in a good athletic position. So when the ball bounced up, he was able to react.
"That play shows what kind of an athlete he is," Trammell said of Cedeno. "That was an incredible play."
Trammell is in charge of the infielders, and assigned to "clean things up and polish things up" regarding Cedeno's fielding. There isn't one specific element the two are working on.
"He's got the ability to do everything," Trammell said. "And not to single Ronny out, but we're looking to do things correctly. That's what wins ballgames."
Cedeno got kudos from Trammell in the Wednesday game for another play when he handled a cutoff throw well. It's something that doesn't show up in the box score, but it was a heads-up play and the Cubs were able to stop a runner from advancing.
"That's good baseball, and that's what Lou's looking for," Trammell said.
Piniella was impressed Friday when Cedeno hit the ball to right in the eighth to advance a runner. The young infielder also hit a three-run homer in the second inning.
"We threw a little challenge out there to him and he's responded," Piniella said.
Extra bases: Because the Giants are starting left-handers in back-to-back games, Cliff Floyd will likely go to the Minor League camp to get some extra at-bats. ... Bob Brenly, the color commentator for the Cubs television broadcasts, will be back for the regular season and the WGN-TV telecasts. He's taking time to watch his son play baseball for UNLV. ... Check the Triple-A Iowa Cubs promotional schedule. They will have bobblehead nights for both Zambrano and Hill this season. Both are wearing their Iowa Cubs uniforms. ... A Japanese television crew got Piniella to stomp on a small stuffed lamb to end the so-called billy goat curse on the Cubs. The crew couldn't find a stuffed goat.
On deck: The Cubs travel to Scottsdale on Saturday to play the Giants again. Barry Zito is slated to start for San Francisco while Wade Miller will make his fifth start for the Cubs. Miller is in contention for the fifth starter spot. The game will be broadcast on WGN Radio and Comcast Sports Net at 3:05 p.m. CT, and fans can watch the action live on MLB.TV or listen on Gameday Audio.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.