ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.—Carlos Zambrano will fly to Chicago on Thursday to have his right shoulder examined after leaving Wednesday night's game in the seventh inning with shoulder discomfort.
As Zambrano left the field during the 5-4 loss to Tampa Bay, the Cubs' season flashed before the eyes of thousands of fans on a road trip at Tropicana Field.
Alfonso Soriano's broken left hand, the Cubs can ill afford to lose Zambrano for any length of time.
"He had discomfort, we had to get him out and that's all we know," manager Lou Piniella said. "We did the right thing getting him out of there, obviously. Now we'll hope for the best. That's all we can do."
Zambrano said the problem probably was related to the neck soreness he experienced in a May 17 start against Pittsburgh, though he denied afterward his shoulder was sore and said he felt no discomfort until Wednesday.
"We'll see what happens [Thursday]," Zambrano said of a scheduled MRI on his shoulder. "Hopefully it's nothing bad. I feel good … just tendinitis, hopefully, and they'll put me on some medicine."
Zambrano, who allowed four third-inning runs while falling to 8-3, believes he will make his next scheduled start Tuesday night against Baltimore, though the Cubs are likely to be more cautious. The problem occurred while facing Eric Hinske in the seventh.
"There was a funny pitch that I felt something in my arm, and then the last pitch I threw in the game to Hinske, I dropped my arm a lot because I couldn't go back to the top of my arm," Zambrano said.
Catcher Geovany Soto noticed Zambrano wincing. Within moments Piniella and trainer Mark O'Neal were summoned to the mound, and Piniella brought in reliever Neal Cotts.
"I wanted to finish the hitter," Zambrano said. "Obviously, Lou told me that's enough, and I have to respect that."
Zambrano left his May 17 start against Pittsburgh after four innings and later complained of neck soreness from sleeping the wrong way. Both Zambrano and the Cubs repeatedly denied a published report he had shoulder pain, and he pitched seven strong innings in his next start to quell doubts.
But one start later, on May 28, Zambrano threw 130 pitches over eight innings against the Dodgers at Wrigley Field. Zambrano said that outing was not related to his current shoulder problem, but he has been inconsistent since then with a 5.68 ERA over his last four starts, including Wednesday, when he allowed four earned runs over 62/3 innings.
Leading 2-1 in the third, Zambrano issued a leadoff walk to Akinori Iwamura before allowing six of the next seven batters to reach on a double, four singles and another walk.
Zambrano induced a double-play ball from Jason Bartlett to get out of the inning and then threw 32/3 scoreless innings to give the Cubs a chance.
The Cubs pulled within a run on Soto's solo homer off Troy Percival in the ninth, but Mark DeRosa was stranded on first when Kosuke Fukudome was called out on strikes.
"We make exciting games, don't we?" Piniella said. "I think Tampa Bay likes playing the Chicago teams."