Zambrano was rocked (GETTY)
After heaping praise on his pitching staff for its command of the strike zone in spring training, Cubs manager Lou Piniella was left to watch Monday as his pitchers combined for eight walks and a hit batter in a 16-5 loss to the Braves.
Starting pitcher Carlos Zambrano had another Opening Day implosion. He lasted just 1 1/3 innings this time, walking two, hitting a batter and giving up six hits.
Relievers Jeff Samardzija and Justin Berg each walked three. Samardzija walked the bases loaded in the seventh.
"Samardzija and Berg just couldn't get the ball over the plate, and when you do that, you're going to give up a lot of runs," Piniella said. "That's exactly what they did. We didn't walk people all spring. I kept complimenting our pitchers on throwing strikes. But again, I said we've got to get to double-decked stadiums to find out (about young pitchers). We've got a lot of young kids here. They're going to have some ups and downs. We've just got to keep working."
Zambrano has a history of poor starts on Opening Day and the Cubs aren't worried about him over the long term. They do, however, have three rookies in the bullpen, and Samardzija has limited big-league experience. He lost out in the battle for a starter's job and moved to the 'pen late in spring training.
"I can only speak for myself," Samardzija said. "You just can't walk guys. You can't give them free passes. Mechanically, I felt fine. Obviously, I was a little excited to get out there the first game, Opening Day. Obviously, a couple got away, but I threw some good pitches that just missed."
BRAVES 16, CUBS 5: Zambrano gave up eight runs, all earned, in just 1 1/3 innings. The Cubs staked Zambrano to a 3-0 lead in the first on Marlon Byrd's three-run homer. Zambrano faced 10 batters in the first and was yanked after giving up a homer to Brian McCann in the second. In addition to the pitchers walking eight, the fielders committed two errors, and the Cubs had two runners doubled off bases.
--Zambrano's outing matched his career-short start, set Sept. 4, 2006 against Pittsburgh. Zambrano has a 6.99 ERA in six Opening Day starts.
"Got to concentrate on my next start, and I will be prepared for my next start," said Zambrano, who works again Sunday at Cincinnati.
--LHP James Russell made his major league debut in relief. He tossed two scoreless innings, giving up two hits. He's the son of former big-league closer Jeff Russell.
"It felt good," he said. "It's a long time coming. I wish we could have done a little better today. Overall, I'm happy with the way I handled myself out there."
--3B Aramis Ramirez homered for the second straight Opening Day and for the third time in the last six openers. He went 2-for-4 with two RBIs but also was doubled off first base on a disputed flyout.
"I would rather have the 'W,'" Ramirez said. "We've still got 161 to go. We've got to refocus and come back Wednesday."
--Byrd became the first Cub since Henry Rodriguez in 1998 to homer in his first at-bat with the team. It was a three-run homer in the first, and it gave the Cubs a 3-0 lead.
"I hoped we would have kept the momentum," Byrd said. "They've got a good team over there, and they know how to break your momentum and get their own going."
--OF Tyler Colvin, who tore it up in spring training, sat in favor of Kosuke Fukudome, who started in right field and went 2-for-3 with two runs, a double and a walk. Colvin pinch hit in the seventh and flied out. Piniella said he wants to get Colvin two or three starts a week.