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06/03/10 1:26 AM ET

Cubs bring Astros nemesis back for opener

The Cubs couldn't have picked a better opponent for Carlos Zambrano to make his return to the rotation against.

Zambrano will open up Chicago's three-game series in Houston on Friday, his first start since April 20 against the Mets. For his career, Zambrano is 13-7 with a 2.54 ERA -- the lowest against any team he has made at least three starts against -- in 27 starts (29 appearances) against the Astros (20-34).

"Smart move on his part," Astros infielder Geoff Blum said. "His numbers are proven against us, so why not? If you're going to put him in the rotation and want to get him in a good groove, put him against a team he does well against."

Since moving to the bullpen, Zambrano has lowered his ERA from 7.45 to 6.12, but the Cubs (24-29) feel that his success or failure in the rotation will go a long way in determining the outcome of their season.

"I'm looking forward to seeing Zambrano," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "One of the keys for us going forward is Zambrano pitching well out of the rotation. He could give us a big boost there. But I look forward to seeing Zambrano, and he was throwing the ball very well in the bullpen the last four or five, six times he threw the ball. Let's hope that he can run off a nice little streak for us."

Pitching coach Larry Rothschild said he expects the right-hander to throw around 75-80 pitches in his return to the rotation.

Cubs: Looking to snap losing streak
Chicago has lost three in a row and four of its last five. ... The Cubs have been held to one or two runs in five of their last six games. ... The Cubs are 3-22 when scoring three runs or fewer and 21-7 when scoring at least four.

Astros: Paulino looks for backing from bats
Felipe Paulino (0-7, 4.40) gets the start for the Astros. Houston is averaging 1.97 runs per game in games started by Paulino, the lowest for any pitcher in the Majors.

Worth noting
Geoff Blum, Lance Berkman, Pedro Feliz and Jeff Keppinger are all under .200 hitters against Zambrano. ... Carlos Lee, who hit a walk-off home run against the Nationals on Thursday, has hit .382 with five home runs in 55 at-bats against Big Z.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.