The Cubs watched a 1-0 lead slip away late in Thursday's contest, as the bullpen gave up the game-tying run in the eighth and conceded the game-winner with two outs in the top of the ninth. Chicago's bullpen had 24 blown saves last year, tied for the seventh most in the Majors, and the club knows it's an area that needs to improve in 2012.
Now, looking to avoid their first 0-2 start since '08, the Cubs will turn to Matt Garza to counter Nationals newcomer Gio Gonzalez on Saturday afternoon at Wrigley Field.
Gonzalez, coming off a season in which he recorded career bests in wins (16), ERA (3.12) and strikeouts (197) with the Athletics, was traded to Washington in December. In 10 Interleague starts during his four years in the American League, Gonzalez was 3-3 with a 2.54 ERA.
As he begins his first season in the Senior Circuit, though, Gonzalez also has his sights set on something he was unable to do in those 10 Interleague outings -- record his first Major League hit.
"I'm trying to make the adjustment of trying to be a hitter and a pitcher at the same time," said Gonzalez, who is 0-for-7 in his big league career at the plate. "Little by little, I feel like I'm making great and positive steps, and making contact with the ball. I'm not saying I'm going to be the best hitter in the world, but at least I'm going to make adjustments to get the job done."
Garza will be looking to not only keep Gonzalez hitless, but to also pick up right where he left off last season. After starting the year 2-6, Garza went 8-4 the rest of the way to finish 10-10 with a career-best 3.32 ERA.
As far as what he's looking to accomplish this season, Garza isn't focused on extending his personal four-game winning streak or trimming that ERA down even further.
"October -- that's it," Garza said earlier this spring. "We get to October, then all the personal stuff will come with it. To me, team accolades are way more important. Getting us to a place where we need to be, where we should be. Getting back to October and fighting for the pennant."
Nationals: Morse, Ankiel continuing rehab process
Outfielders Michael Morse and Rick Ankiel both began their rehab process Thursday, joining Double-A Harrisburg.
Morse, currently on the disabled list with a strained right lat muscle, is expected to return to the big league club around April 10 or 11, and Ankiel (tight left quad) should return soon after.
Cubs: LaHair not expected back until Sunday
First baseman Bryan LaHair missed the Cubs' Opening Day loss because of lingering pain in his back.
LaHair, who expects to return to action Sunday, was replaced by Jeff Baker in the season opener.
"It's just such a minor thing, but it's something I couldn't prevent -- it's like a nerve thing," said LaHair, who blamed an impingement for the pain in his back and leg. "The nerve settled down now and the pain is pretty much out, and now it's just getting back into the feel of things. I should be back in there this weekend."
The four hits by the Nationals tied for the club's second-fewest Opening Day knocks in franchise history. The 1970 Expos recorded just three in a 5-1 loss.
The Nationals' 13 wins when scoring two or fewer runs were the second most in the Majors last season, behind only the Dodgers (14).