CHICAGO -- Among the lessons Jeff Samardzija has learned in the first half of his first year as a starter is how to make adjustments quickly.
Samardzija (6-8, 4.71 ERA), who will make his team-leading 18th start on Wednesday in the Cubs' second game against the Marlins, said he is still learning which pitch early in the game is his most effective. He's discovered he may go into a game with a game plan, but then has to do some tweaking.
"The biggest adjustment for me is going start to start and how I feel and what I need to change," Samardzija said.
Entering Travis Wood's start on Tuesday, Cubs pitchers have posted a 1.23 ERA in the last five games, including a 1.13 ERA by the starters. It's up to Samardzija to keep up that pace.
"We're kind of riding each other now -- nobody wants to be the guy who lets off the gas and lets a team get up on us," Samardzija said. "We're having fun and having some competition."
The righty has totaled 101 innings so far, his highest total in the big leagues. The Cubs are monitoring his innings, but it isn't like the Nationals are doing with Stephen Strasburg, whom Washington officials say will be limited to 160 frames this year.
"I don't think we're going to put a number on it," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "Just by the way we've set it up throughout the whole year, it's going to end up a relatively decent number. We're not going to sit there and say, 'He's got 70 pitches after five innings and that's it.' We won't do anything like that."
Big Z apologizes to Cubs fans in return to Wrigley
CHICAGO -- Carlos Zambrano made it a point to let Cubs fans know he's sorry for any troubles late in his 11-year stint in Chicago. The former Cubs starter described his return to Wrigley Field in the opposing team's dugout on Tuesday as both weird and emotional.
"I still love these fans," Zambrano said. "Once again, I apologize for any inconvenience and anything that I did. The only thing that I wanted to do in Chicago is win, and I really apologize to the Cubs fans and the people here who treated me good."
Zambrano made three All-Star appearances with the Cubs before outbursts, frustrations and a 4.82 ERA last year resulted in his trade to the Marlins in the offseason. He described his final 2 1/2 seasons as out of control, and he wants to move forward with his career and remember his first 8 1/2 years with the Cubs.
Zambrano, who still has a house in Chicago, said his emotions reached a peak when he hit the intersection at Addison Street and Clark Street and could see Wrigley Field in view before Tuesday's series opener. He's not going to pitch in the three-game series this week after starting and earning the win over the Nationals in Miami on Monday.
"To be honest, I didn't want to pitch here," Zambrano said. "Not this year. I just didn't want to pitch here. The time will come that I can come back here."
He said he misses the city of Chicago, where Cubs fans still greet him with mostly positive reactions on the street.
"They said, 'Too bad you left. We miss you, Z,'" Zambrano said. "A lot of people. And I appreciate that from the fans. There's some people there that still don't like me, but there's nothing I can do about it."
Zambrano said his relationships with former teammates are just as strong.
"I think they treat me with respect, professionally, and every time I see them, I hug them or I say hi to them," Zambrano said. "There's no hard feelings, believe me."
"The problem wasn't with them. The problem was not with the Cubs. The problem was Carlos Zambrano. That's why Carlos Zambrano is now with the Miami Marlins. If you have to blame somebody, blame me. Things didn't work out the last three years because of me. That's all I can say. I am responsible for my acts."
He credits his relationship with God to allow him to focus and continue his career. The 31-year-old starter once debated retirement.
The now calmer Zambrano had his low moments with the Cubs, but Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen said people should also remember his earlier years.
"Off the field, he's been great," Guillen said. "Sometimes, I want him to go back to being Zambrano, sometimes. But he's doing what I predicted. Don't forget about what Zambrano did. That guy almost won the Cy Young Award here."
Cubs not dwelling on trade rumors
CHICAGO -- Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza were still in Cubs uniforms on Tuesday despite more rumors that the pitchers could be changing teams by the Trade Deadline. Cubs manager Dale Sveum has dealt with speculation before.
"Everything's still rumors," Sveum said. "I've been in these situations and there's so many rumors and then [the Trade Deadline] gets there and nothing ends up happening. In our world, we don't dwell on it, we know it's a reality. There's nothing you can do about it, and yeah, if we did lose a couple pieces of this puzzle, it'd be devastating to the team, but that's part of the game, part of building the organization. It's unfortunate, but that's the way it is. You don't dwell on it until it happens."
Cubs players are prepared for change.
"There were talks in Spring Training about Garza being traded," Jeff Samardzija said. "We'll show up and see who's on the lineup card every day and go from there. We have a lot of professionals here who love to play the game and love playing for the Cubs. That's out of our control."
The Cubs entered Tuesday's game with the best record in baseball since June 25 at 12-4.
"Obviously, when you win, it's a lot funner to do anything," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "There's one thing I try not to do is be any different winning or losing, but there's no doubt the hitch in your giddy-up is a lot better when you're winning than when you're losing. You don't do anything different. You prepare the same and do everything the same, and whatever happens happens."
Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen was surrounded by media in the visitor's dugout prior to the game, while Sveum spoke in a much less crowded interview room. This is Guillen's first trip back to Chicago after eight seasons as the White Sox manager.
"I don't even notice it," Sveum said. "You don't really dwell on what's going on in the other dugout."
Rule 5 Draft pick Lendy Castillo, on the disabled list since May 12 with a strained groin, began a rehab assignment in Mesa this week.
Pitchers Rafael Dolis and Jairo Asencio both threw off the mound on Tuesday. Neither has pitched since July 3, and Sveum said he wanted the two to get back on the mound before their first game action since the All-Star break. Both were available Tuesday.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter@CarrieMuskat. Rowan Kavner is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.