MESA, Ariz. – Carlos Zambrano threw free and easy in his spring training debut, working two innings in the Chicago Cubs' 15-7 exhibition loss to the Oakland Athletics on Sunday.
It may be a sign for the fiery right-hander of things to come in 2011 after a difficult 2010 when he was pulled from the rotation and suspended from the team in June after a scuffle with former teammate Derek Lee.
Despite the difficult start — demoted to the bullpen after four starts — and being placed on the restricted list while going through anger management, Zambrano salvaged the season by finishing on a tear, going 8-0 with a 1.40 ERA over his last 11 starts.
"Year after year you learn from experience and the things that you do in the past," Zambrano said about the pitching learning curve, but it could be applied to life as well. "That's what I do."
That's what the Cubs are hoping for as they lean on the 29-year-old Venezuelan to help anchor the rotation that has too much talent to finish fifth in the NL Central again.
"After three or four outings and I will be good," Zambrano said. "Today I threw a lot of strikes. I was a little too rushed with (designated hitter Kurt) Suzuki but I was able to get the ground ball for the double play."
Cubs manager Mike Quade saw exactly what he wanted from Zambrano.
"It's fun to watch him," he said. "After such a good first inning, he wavered a little and came back to right the ship. I don't know what his velocities were, but he was throwing well, which is not surprising because when he gets the adrenaline going, look out."
It wasn't as smooth of a debut for Chicago's big offseason acquisition as right-hander Matt Garza, who came over in a trade from Tampa Bay, struggled throwing strictly fastballs and change-ups.
He allowed five earned runs on five hits in his two innings, including a grand slam to Coco Crisp on a change-up, but Garza was more concerned with his hit.
"I didn't want to strike out and look foolish," said Garza. "It was a good jumping off point. I never had a hit ever. It was cool. All of the guys were laughing and joked about it, but today my job was to get outs. I got six of them but not the way I want to go about it."
Garza gave up another run after a leadoff double by right-fielder Matt Carson. He took the loss in the spring training opener for both teams after allowing six base runners in his two innings.
The Cubs' offense started well to get a 4-0 lead off Oakland starter Trevor Cahill as six of the first seven batters reached, including a two-run double by Alfonso Soriano, who had three hits. Starlin Castro and Marlon Byrd each went 2 for 3 to add to the 16-hit attack.
The early lead was erased by Crisp's grand slam and then three errors, two by right-fielder Tyler Colvin, and ineffective pitching (Oakland had 18 hits) made it a rough start to the spring schedule.
"Day one I am not going to be so critical about all of this," Quade said. "We will identify the mistakes, work on them and move on."
And the hope is Zambrano has done the same.
Notes: Quade said that Colvin, who has been getting time at first base to become more versatile, will get a shot at in the infield at some time during the opening week of spring games, possibly Thursday against Texas. ... RHP Randy Wells gets the start Monday against Milwaukee and Ryan Dempster, the Opening Day starter, gets the ball at San Francisco on Tuesday. ... Several of the Cubs players attended a surprise party Saturday night for former Cubs reliever Bobby Howry, who retired after 13 seasons and pitched for five other teams, including the White Sox. ... The A's agreed to terms with all 21 pre-arbitration players on their 40-man roster on one-year contracts for the 2011 season. The list includes RHP Andrew Bailey, 1B Daric Barton, LHP Jerry Blevins, RHP Trevor Cahill, IF Adrian Cardenas, OF Chris Carter, LHP Bobby Cramer, RHP Fautino De Los Santos, C Josh Donaldson, IF Sean Doolittle, LHP Pedro Figueroa, LHP Gio Gonzalez, RHP Trystan Magnuson, RHP Guillermo Moscoso, LHP Josh Outman, SS Cliff Pennington, C Landon Powell, IF Adam Rosales, RHP Tyson Ross, IF Eric Sogard and OF Michael Taylor.