MLB Insiders - Chicago Cubs

The Pirates open a three game series with the Chicago Cubs at PNC Park on Friday night. Lefty Zach Duke will take the mound for the Bucs. The Cubs will toss ace Carlos Zambrano.

The Cubs will look for their ninth win against the Pirates in 10 tries this season and their fourth in a row at PNC Park when they open a three-game series on Friday.

Chicago will send ace Carlos Zambrano (6-1, 2.45 ERA) to the mound in the series opener hoping for a better performance than he provided Saturday against the Pirates.

Zambrano had his shortest outing of the season, pitching four innings while allowing five runs - four earned. He didn't receive a decision in Pittsburgh's 7-6 win, and seemed to feel like his tough start was merely an aberration.

Zach Duke (2-2, 4.23) will start for Pittsburgh, duplicating the matchup from six days earlier when he faced Zambrano. Duke hasn't been dominant this season, but he's been the Pirates' best starter. He went 6 1-3 innings and allowed four runs on Saturday

Duke has pitched well against the Cubs in Pittsburgh, going 1-0 with a 1.74 ERA. His best outing of the year came against the Cubs at home on April 9, when he went seven innings, allowing one run while striking out six. Duke, however, didn't get a decision in the Pirates' 6-4 loss in 15 innings.

The Cubs came out with a radically different lineup for Wednesday night's game, which they lost 5-3 to the Houston Astros.

Leadoff man Alfonso Soriano got the night off. Ryan Theriot moved up to the top spot in the order, and Kosuke Fukudome batted second for the first time this year.

Fukudome started 39 games batting fifth and three hitting cleanup.

Manager Lou Piniella said he'd like to give Soriano a rest every 12 games or so, especially considering Soriano's previous leg injury. Thursday is an off day in the schedule, so Soriano will get two full days off.

Rookie Micah Hoffpauir played left field and collected his first major league hit, a double.

Piniella added it will be time to start "rotating" all of his players in and out of the lineup, including Fukudome and Derrek Lee. Lee never wants a day off, but Piniella said he didn't believe a player can be effective playing all 162 games.

ASTROS 5, CUBS 3: For the second consecutive night, the Cubs took a lead, only to lose. Derrek Lee hit a two-run run homer in the first inning. Doubles by rookies Micah Hoffpauir and Geovany Soto made it 3-0. But rookie right-hander Sean Gallagher gave up four runs in the Houston third, including three on a homer by Carlos Lee on an 0-2 slider that hung. The Cubs were out-hit by the Astros 9-5. Their road record fell to 9-11.

--Rookie OF Micah Hoffpauir made an early impression on manager Lou Piniella by hitting two doubles in Wednesday's 5-3 loss at Houston. "Look, we're looking for some left-hand hitting here that can drive the ball," Piniella said. "If this young man can, we'll find a place for him in the lineup."

--CF Jim Edmonds was 0-for-3 Wednesday's 5-3 loss to Houston and is just 2-for-15 since being signed last month after his release from San Diego. "We need to see improvement with the bat; let's be perfectly honest," manager Lou Piniella said. "He needs at-bats. We're going to give him as many as we can."

--1B Derrek Lee's homer in Wednesday's 5-3 loss at Houston was his 11th of the season. After battling a slump, Lee went 6-for-13 in the three games against the Astros. Lee needs one more homer to collect 250 in his career.

--RHP Carlos Zambrano will make Friday's start at Pittsburgh, as scheduled. Zambrano and the Cubs were unhappy over one published report that said he had stiffness in his right shoulder and neck area. Zambrano said he had only a stiff neck the past few days. The Cubs said the stiff neck resulted from the way Zambrano had slept on it one night.

--2B Mark DeRosa took an 11-game hitting streak into Wednesday before going 0-for-3. The streak tied his career best, set in 2006 with Texas.

BY THE NUMBERS: 14 -- With the call-up May 18 of 1B/OF Micah Hoffpauir, the Cubs have used 14 homegrown players on the big-league roster this year. That's significant because the Cubs' farm system has been much maligned in recent years.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm very confident in myself. I know I had a bad run in (early) May, but it's a long season." -- LF Alfonso Soriano, on his recent hot streak. Recommended Stories

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