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Carlos Zambrano offers health but no help in Cubs’ 13-3 loss to Marlins

Carlos Zambrano thinks things over after giving up solo homer Mike Stantfourth inning Saturday Wrigley Field.  |  Paul

Carlos Zambrano thinks things over after giving up a solo homer to Mike Stanton in the fourth inning Saturday at Wrigley Field. | Paul Beaty~AP

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Updated: October 29, 2011 12:35AM

Finding the good in all the bad seems to be a daily challenge for the Cubs. A 13-3 loss to the Florida Marlins on Saturday was the latest test, with the good and the bad combined in starter Carlos Zambrano.

The bad was obvious from the start, when a 29-pitch first inning of two walks and two hits resulted in three runs for the Marlins. Mike Stanton added to those with a home run in the fourth and a three-run homer in the fifth to finish Zambrano’s first start since a sore back put him on the shelf July 1.

The good?

‘‘I felt good [physically],’’ Zambrano said. ‘‘That’s the good thing. My fastball was good. My back, my arm, my body [felt] good. My intelligence was no good. Two [bad] pitches to Stanton twice, and the first inning. Too many pitches over the middle of the plate.’’

When a game is out of hand early, as this one was, a starter feeling physically well is good enough for manager Mike Quade.

‘‘It’s funny — his velocity was as good as I’ve seen it early on, maybe too good,’’ he said. ‘‘He didn’t have quite the location.’’

Zambrano (6-5) said he felt like Robocop — ‘‘you know, when he was trying to hit a target?

‘‘My sinker was moving to the middle [of the plate] instead of the corners, but everything else was good — the velocity and my split-finger.’’

Zambrano gave up a season-high eight runs and seven hits with four walks, striking out six. He hadn’t ­allowed that many runs since
April 5, 2010, at Atlanta, when he opened the season with one of his worst outings. Zambrano also had been 3-0 against the Marlins at Wrigley Field.

Quade would say having Zambrano back and healthy is good enough for now because it brings hope of good things later. But a more conventional definition of ‘‘good’’ is the Marlins’ Javier Vazquez (6-8), who allowed one hit through five innings before giving up three in the sixth, including a three-run homer by Aramis Ramirez.

‘‘Wow, he was terrific, and we’ve seen Javy pitch a lot,’’ Quade said.

Said Ramirez: ‘‘He topped 94 [mph], so you have to give him credit. When the other guy is on his game like Vazquez was and he gets three, four runs early, you’ll lose games.’’

And that remains the continuing ‘‘bad’’ for the Cubs, who struggled to score in the first three games of this series even as they got back-to-back scoreless outings from starters Matt Garza (seven innings Thursday) and Ryan Dempster (eight innings ­Friday).

‘‘We have to give credit to the Marlins because they have a good pitching staff, but we have to come back tomorrow and score some runs,’’ Ramirez said.

As bad as Saturday’s blowout loss was for 40,709 at Wrigley Field, the ache wasn’t as lingering as Thursday, when a 2-0 lead vanished in the ninth in a 6-3 loss. The Cubs have lost only four of 33 games in which they led in the ninth, but those are the ones Quade remembers.

‘‘To be in position to win in the ninth [and lose], those kill me,’’ he said. ‘‘These, when you get behind the eight-ball early, aren’t fun, but the others kill you [mentally].’’

But he returned to the bright side.

‘‘I think starting pitching is so important,’’ he said. ‘‘I’m just anxious to see Z pitch the rest of the way. As long as he’s healthy and strong . . .’’

Zambrano ended up with 94 pitches in his 4 2/3 innings.

‘‘I wanted to get him to 100 pitches and five innings,’’ Quade said. ‘‘Part of it is building him up again [after being on the disabled list]. Whether it was a little rust or too much juice after 2 1/2 weeks, he’s healthy.’’

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