11/01/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

It's a New Age for Zambrano, Cubs

It was a pretty simple question and Carlos Zambrano gave a very simple answer.

Q: Given the way that your last two starts didn't go the way you would have liked, are you anxious to get back out there?

A: What games?

After throwing his historic no-hitter on Sept. 14, Zambrano gave up 13 runs in 6 1/3 innings against St. Louis and at New York. He failed to get out of the second in his no-no encore against the Cardinals at Wrigley Field.

Those two starts.

"It's in the past," Zambrano said in his media session before Wednesday's playoff opener with the Dodgers. "This is a new age, new stage for the Cubs, new ballgame, new team. And I just have to go out there and try to do my job and have fun."

Zambrano had to make a one-day round trip to Venezuela before his aborted start against St. Louis because his grandmother passed away. Cubs manager Lou Piniella blamed that start on jet-lagged legs. But Zambrano wasn't much better in his next start and asked out of a two-inning final tuneup.

But hey, as Carlos says, the past is the past. That's a tough sell in a town obsessed with its history of futility.

So Zambrano, the $16-million-a year, 14-win Opening Day starter, starts Thursday against the Dodgers while Ryan Dempster, the starter-turned-erratic closer-turned 17-game winner, took his 14-3 home record to the bump for the opener.

To his credit, Zambrano said all the right things about being bumped back a day.

"This is the playoffs, man," he said. "We have four quality starters, and like Lou told me, you know, each of the starting pitchers that we have here can start the first game. He decided to go with Dempster, and I agreed with him."

Zambrano always seems to invite some kind of controversy, or at the very least, a dose of whimsy. On Wednesday, there was a slight dispute as to whether or not Zambrano wanted to throw two tuneup innings Sunday in Milwaukee. Piniella said he acquiesced to Big Z's reluctance. Zambrano demurred, if only slightly.

"He didn't want to pitch on Sunday," Piniella said. "He was going to pitch a couple innings and he thought it was best if he could get a little flat-ground work and get an extra throw day in the bullpen as opposed to pitching the two innings. I let him make that decision. As far as why, I don't really have any idea."

Zambrano said he saw no reason to waste pitches warming up Sunday - he said he throws a lot of warmup tosses - but stressed that he didn't order Piniella around. He was criticized after that St. Louis outing for walking off the mound before Piniella came out to get the ball.

"I talked to Lou that day and I said, 'Whatever you want me to do,' " Zambrano said of the season ender. "I went to the office and I talked to him, spoke to him, and I said, 'If you want me to pitch tomorrow, I can pitch, whatever you want.' He said, 'No, if you don't want to pitch, it's OK.' "

Whatever. It doesn't really matter. Zambrano didn't need the warm-up then, but the Cubs need more than a few innings from him Thursday.