PITTSBURGH -- Hall of Fame pitcher Robin Roberts, who died on Thursday at the age of 83, and Lou Piniella were teammates briefly on the Baltimore Orioles in 1964.
That was Piniella's only season with the O's, and he had one at-bat -- when he made his Major League debut on Sept. 4, 1964, in the fourth inning. He pinch-hit for Roberts, who started the game against the Los Angeles Angels.
"I grounded out to shortstop, and when I got back to the dugout, he said, '[Heck], I could've done that,'" Piniella said, laughing.
Actually, according to the box score, Piniella grounded out to the second baseman, but you get the picture. Roberts lost the game, 7-1, at Dodger Stadium.
"I get back to the dugout, and he said, '[Darn], rook, I could've done that. What the [heck] did they send you up to hit for me?'" Piniella said.
Piniella would see Roberts during the offseason because he lived near him in the Tampa, Fla., area.
"I followed his career because I was a fan of the 'Whiz Kids' back with Richie Ashburn and Curt Simmons and that whole group, and Robin was a mainstay of that pitching staff," Piniella said. "They used to train right in Clearwater, 18, 20 miles from home, so I used to go see them play."
Ramirez back hitting fifth in lineup
PITTSBURGH -- Aramis Ramirez was back in the fifth spot in the Cubs' lineup Thursday, one day after being dropped to sixth.
Ramirez switched places with Alfonso Soriano because of his early season struggles. The third baseman is hitting .154. Derrek Lee said after Wednesday's game that it shouldn't matter where you hit. Cubs manager Lou Piniella agreed.
"There's too much made out of it," Piniella said of the lineup positions. "The guys in the front part of the lineup get up one more time than the guys in the back part. That's the big difference. ... Outside of that, once the game starts, it doesn't matter. You're going to lead off some innings, hit second some innings. it doesn't make any difference."
Lee hasn't gotten off to a good start either, and headed into Thursday's game batting .223. If he continues to scuffle, would Piniella move him?
"I know he started off slow last year," Piniella said. "He started off slow this year. I thought from the middle of May last year, he hit as well as anybody in the league. Let's hope that's the case this year."
After hitting .189 in April 2009, Lee batted .313 in May, and finished with a .306 average. May was when Lee got hot as he reached base in 31 straight games from May 16-June 24, 2009.
The first baseman acknowledged he's part of the problem with the Cubs' inconsistent offense.
"I'm not hitting," Lee said. "That isn't helping things."
Zambrano available out of bullpen
PITTSBURGH -- If needed, Carlos Zambrano could be used out of the Cubs' bullpen Thursday, which would be his first back to back outings since switching from starter to reliever.
Zambrano pitched one inning on Wednesday against the Pirates and threw 13 pitches. It was his fourth relief appearance since he was moved April 22. He has yet to go in consecutive games as the Cubs try to ease their Opening Day starter into his new role as the setup man.
"He threw the ball well last night, he got loose fairly quick," manager Lou Piniella said. "He didn't throw many pitches. If we need him tonight to win a ballgame, yes, we'll use him."
The presence of Zambrano in the bullpen has stabilized the back end and created a solid bridge to closer Carlos Marmol.
"Putting 'Z' in the bullpen has allowed us a lot of flexibility," Piniella said. "We've just got to score more runs consistently to get to the bullpen."
The relievers could get reinforcements this weekend. Esmailin Caridad was to make a rehab outing Thursday with Triple-A Iowa and throw two innings. If all goes well, he could join the Cubs Saturday in Cincinnati.
Theriot ready for another hitting streak
PITTSBURGH -- Ryan Theriot is eager to start a new hitting streak.
The Cubs shortstop went 0-for-4 Wednesday night to end his hitting streak at 13 games, which tied his career high, set July 3-20, 2008. Theriot joked that he wasn't even aware of the streak.
"I knew [Mike Fontenot] had one going and I laughed at him when he had a pinch-hit and got out," Theriot said of the second baseman, who struck out Tuesday to end his streak at 10 games.
Nobody teased Theriot.
"I don't think it's anything significant until you get close to 20 [games] and up," he said.
OK, so Joe DiMaggio's record is safe.
Theriot did enter Thursday's game ranked fourth in the National League with a .345 average. He leads the NL with 41 hits and was tied with James Loney with 13 multihit games.
"I think the main thing is just keeping the same approach," Theriot said. "For me, it's staying consistent with my thought process, with my approach. If I do that, I'll be fine. I made a few changes, nothing too drastic.
"Hitting first also forces you to think differently, which is big. For me, with my game, I think it helps a lot."
Hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo has made some adjustments with Theriot's stance and also convinced him to take more pitches.
"I'm seeing the ball better, swinging at better pitches," the shortstop said. "Staying more narrow [with his stance] and being able to stay back allows you to see the ball better and allows you to recognize balls and strikes, and balls you can go after and balls you can't.
"It's been good," he said. "I've been able to get on base and, more importantly, score some runs."
Cubs need to pick it up on road
PITTSBURGH -- Teams should have a home-field advantage, but for some reason, the Cubs are at a severe disadvantage on the road.
Entering Thursday's game against the Pirates, the Cubs were batting .297 with 74 runs scored in 13 home games. That average is tied with the Dodgers for the best home mark in the Major Leagues.
But when they're wearing the road grays, the Cubs are hitting .251 with 59 runs scored in 15 road games. And 25 of those runs came in the three-game series at Milwaukee.
Subtract the numbers from the series against the Brewers on April 23-25, and the Cubs were hitting just .220 on the road. Chicago is 6-9 on the road so far and scored two runs in each of the first two games of the three-game series against the Pirates.
"Every year, we talk about the same thing," shortstop Ryan Theriot said Thursday.
Is it bad room service? Are they homesick?
"Maybe we get too much sleep on the road?" Theriot said. "I don't know."
"Teams usually play better at home," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "But the disparity in our offensive numbers, I don't really have an answer for it. I know when the wind blows out at Wrigley, it's an inviting park to hit in. We have to find a way to score more than two runs on the road.
"Except for the Milwaukee series, we've done that quite a bit -- too many times," said Piniella, whose team has scored two runs or fewer in eight of the 15 road games. "It's just too hard to win on the road with two runs.
"I wish I had an answer," he said. "When the middle part of our lineup hits, we'll get better in a hurry."
The Cubs' offense has not been consistent and they've wasted several solid outings by their starting pitchers. Chicago starters have 18 quality starts out of the 28 games so far, and the team is 9-9 in those games. The starting pitchers have a 1.94 ERA in those 18 games.
"When a pitcher goes out and gives you seven innings of three-run ball, that's a nice performance," Piniella said. "You want some dominating starts but you want quality starts. You get quality starts and there's nothing to complain about."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.