"The best thing in the world about 'Z' to me, the last 13 weeks I've spent with him, he's been fantastic," manager Mike Quade said. "Since coming back last year and finishing so strong, he's had a good spring, handled himself great. And whether he's pitching today or pitching a week from today, I'd like to think he'll pitch well and just leave the Opening Day stuff out of it."
Quade decided to go with Ryan Dempster in Game No. 1 on Friday over both Zambrano and Matt Garza. Zambrano, still just 29, had a rough go of it for most of last year: he was in the rotation, then in the bullpen, then back in the rotation before going to the restricted list. That last step saw him undergo anger management therapy.
But Zambrano finished out strong, going 8-0 with a 1.41 ERA in his final 11 starts. After Quade took over the manager's job on Aug. 23, Zambrano won five straight starts, and seven of eight to finish the season. He hasn't lost a game since June 25.
For Pirates left-hander Paul Maholm, who's in his seventh season with the Pirates, 2011 brings a leadership role -- on the mound Saturday and throughout the season. The longest tenured starter on the staff, Maholm is slated to start in the Pirates' home opener next Thursday.
"Maholm brings that veteran presence," pitching coach Ray Searage said. "He also has good information for people to feed off of. All they have to do is ask him."
"I've been around. I've been through everything," Maholm said. "Most of the time, I'm just going to lead by example. You just try to show them how things should be done. ... We have a bunch of young guys, and I feel like I fit in pretty good with them. It's not like I'm ancient. It's weird to know that me and [Ryan] Doumit have been around the longest. But I don't think either one of us are old by any standard in baseball."
Maholm felt he wasn't as consistent as he had hoped last season, posting a career-high 5.10 ERA in 32 starts. He's been consistent, at least, in taking the mound: since his 2005 rookie season, he hasn't made fewer than 29 starts.
Pirates: Hanrahan handles the Cubs
Closer Joel Hanrahan, who notched the save Friday in a 6-3 win, entered the day with a strong track record against the Cubbies. He's allowed them two runs in 12 career innings spanning 11 appearances.
Garrett Jones is the lone Pirates hitter to have homered off Zambrano and is 4-for-9 against the right-hander lifetime. Ryan Doumit is 8-for-18 against Zambrano with three doubles and six walks.
Lyle Overbay, on the other hand, is just 4-for-21 with five strikeouts.
It's neck-and-neck between April and September, but Maholm's best month historically has been April, when he's posted a 4.30 ERA. His September mark is 4.34. His road ERA of 5.16, though, is well above his 3.89 home mark.
Cubs: Look for Baker at second
Jeff Baker is likely to start at second base on Saturday against Maholm, who's a southpaw. Baker has 19 homers and a .308/.363/.545 line off left-handers in 396 career at-bats. Darwin Barney, who is platooning with Baker, started at second on Friday.
The last time the Cubs opened their season with consecutive games (no day off) at Wrigley Field was 1994, against the Mets.
The Cubs had a rough time with the Pirates last season, going 5-10 against them. They had a tougher time at PNC Park, though, taking just one of six contests there. The Cubs hadn't dropped a season series to the Pirates since 2006, when they went 6-9.