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Big Z's competitive streak unquestioned

Big Z's competitive streak obvious

TUCSON -- Carlos Zambrano may have some scrapes on his left arm and side Tuesday, but there's nothing wrong with his competitive nature.

The Cubs pitcher took a tumble running the bases Monday at Scottsdale Stadium, trying to stretch his hit, which ended up as a triple. Zambrano got a little greedy once he rounded second base, and fell between second and third. More than a few Cubs officials felt a little queasy at the site of the Opening Day starter crash landing on his left shoulder.

"I thought, 'Go three,' or maybe somebody bobbles the ball and I can go home," Zambrano said.

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"My impression was, the third base coach better hold him if he wants to go for an inside the parker," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said.

Third base coach Mike Quade did realize he would have to tackle the 6-foot-5, 225-pounder to stop him.

"Well, let's see who wins," Zambrano said with a smile.

"It looked like a young horse who lost his footing coming around second," Piniella said. "I knew he wasn't hurt. He can motor. His feet were moving rather quickly coming around second. A nice little standup double [would be fine], and leave it at that."

But Zambrano, the ace of the Cubs staff, who was 16-7 with a 3.41 ERA last season, doesn't settle for nice. He's full steam ahead.

"I told my pitching coach [Larry Rothschild], I work hard in the offseason, I work hard in Spring Training to be in shape for the season," Zambrano said. "When you're in shape, and work hard, you can run, steal bases, hit, pitch, do whatever you want. You want to be strong for the next inning, for the next three, four innings."

The Cubs want Zambrano to be healthy for Opening Day and the rest of the 2007 season.

"You don't want to see a pulled groin, or 'hammy' or something," Piniella said. "I asked him, and he said, 'That's what I work hard all winter for.' You should be a little more under control."

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The timing of Zambrano's fall wasn't very good. The right-hander, who settled with the team minutes before an arbitration hearing, may get a long-term contract before Opening Day. His agent, Barry Praver, is expected in Mesa, Ariz., on Thursday, and Zambrano said a meeting was scheduled this weekend with Cubs general manager Jim Hendry.

Did his agent tell Zambrano to take it easy?

"He doesn't know anything about it," Zambrano said, although it's hard to imagine Praver missed the replay on SportsCenter. "He called me [Monday], but I didn't answer the phone."

Good move.

"It was an easy fall," Zambrano said. "I didn't hit the ground hard. When I saw I was losing control of my body, I just dove."

He was a little embarrassed.

"When the crowd started laughing, clapping, I was like, 'OK, don't worry about it,'" Zambrano said.

And he jumped up twice at third base, just to let everyone know he was OK.

For the game, Zambrano threw 71 pitches, the most by a Cubs starter this spring, and gave up two runs on three hits and two walks over four innings. He struck out five, including Barry Bonds in the first inning.

"The only thing I have to correct is be more aggressive with some pitches," Zambrano said. "The pitches I threw to [Bengie] Molina, right away I was two strikes, no balls. The next pitch was a ball. That's one thing I have to correct. I don't like that. If I have somebody two strikes and no balls, I have to come right at them. That's how I have to work."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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