Starting Pitching Has Been Bright Spot

One constant in an otherwise bumpy season for the Cubs has been the starting pitching.

Right-hander Carlos Zambrano turned in the Cubs' 35th quality start of the year in Wednesday's 2-1 loss at Houston. Zambrano went eight innings, giving up only one run.

The Cubs and Rockies are tied for the major league lead in quality starts. Ted Lilly leads the Cubs with nine.

In the quality-start games, the Cubs are 21-14, and the starters have a 2.17 ERA.

Those stats are impressive enough, but there's another, more important benefit to the Cubs getting so many good starts -- seven already this month.

Because the starters have been going in excess of six innings so often, it's taken a big load off a bullpen that has struggled in much of the first one-third of the season. Late men Angel Guzman, Carlos Marmol and Kevin Gregg have remained relatively fresh, something the Cubs hope pays off down the line when they hope to put all facets of their game together.

ASTROS 2, CUBS 1: Guzman gave up a bases-loaded single in the bottom of the ninth to Geoff Blum to end the game. Zambrano started for the Cubs and gave up three hits and one run over eight innings. C Geovany Soto homered in the second inning.

NEWS AND NOTES

--RF Milton Bradley pulled up lame on a groundball double play in the fifth inning Wednesday. The Cubs said Bradley's right leg cramped and that he drank fluids, enabling him to stay in the game. Since spring training, Bradley has been bothered by quadriceps, groin and calf problems.

--Soto provided the only run Wednesday, as he led off the second inning with a home run. It was Soto's third homer of the year and his second in the past week.

--The Cubs activated INF Aaron Miles (right shoulder strain) off the DL and optioned INF/OF Jake Fox to Class AAA Iowa. It's possible Fox will be back up when the Cubs play interleague games at AL parks in two weeks. The Cubs want him to go to Class AAA so he can get at-bats and not sit on the bench for two weeks. Miles started at second base and went 1-for-4.

--3B Mike Fontenot has hit safely in 11 of his last 15 games. He had a season-high four hits Tuesday in a 7-1 victory at Houston. Fontenot flied out Wednesday as a pinch hitter, and he said he's been working to stay "on top" of the ball.

--Guzman took the loss, retiring only one batter in the ninth inning. Guzman entered the game having thrown 13 1/3 scoreless innings dating to May 8, and the Cubs have given him additional responsibility, allowing him to work in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings.

MINOR LEAGUES

DAYTONA 2, JUPITER 0 (CLASS HIGH-A)

At Jupiter, Fla., four Cubs (26-28) pitchers combined on an eight-hit shutout Wednesday. RHP Rafael Dolis (2-3) started and threw five scoreless innings to pick up the win. He allowed five hits and one walk to go with three strikeouts. Daytona used three pitchers in relief with RHP Henry Williamson, LHP Luke Sommer and RHP David Cales combining for four scoreless innings. 2B Nate Samson (2-for-3) led the Cubs' offense with two hits, and 1B Jovan Rosa (1-for-4) and DH Jake Opitz (1-for-4, triple) drove in runs.

CLINTON 5, PEORIA 3 (CLASS-A)

At Clinton, Iowa, 1B Rebel Ridling (2-for-4) hit two home runs, his seventh and eighth of the season, respectively, in a losing effort for the Chiefs (30-27) Wednesday. Ridling has hit safely in 11 of his last 12 games to raise his average to .274 and leads the team with 41 RBI through 57 games. LF Drew Rundle (2-for-3) added two hits for his second straight two-hit night. RHP Chris Carpenter started and received a no-decision, allowing two earned runs and five hits in six innings. He struck out five batters and walked three, and is second in the Cubs' system in strikeouts with 54 through 56 1/3 innings. RHP Kevin Kreier (3-2) suffered the loss in relief, allowing two runs and four hits in two innings.

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