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12/14/11 11:21 PM EST

Big Z strong in winter league game

CHICAGO -- Carlos Zambrano, making his first start since taking a line drive off his face, did not give up a hit over four shutout innings on Wednesday night for Caribes de Anzoategui.

Zambrano, who was injured Nov. 18 and needed 16 stitches, walked one and struck out one in a Venezuelan Winter League game against Tigres de Aragua. He faced 13 batters and got eight groundouts.

The right-hander also tuned up for next season by taking part in a home run derby on Monday in Caracas. He connected on the first pitch he saw, but did not advance to the second round of the event.

Zambrano is under contract for next year, but Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein has told the right-hander he has to "earn his way back" after an early exit from a game in August against the Braves. In that game, Atlanta hit five homers off Zambrano, who was ejected after throwing inside to Chipper Jones. The pitcher left Turner Field, telling teammates he was retiring.

At the home run derby, Zambrano told a Venezuelan reporter that he was preparing for next season as he did his rookie year by "climbing mountains, running on the beach and exercising hard so that I can arrive at Spring Training in optimal shape."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter@CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.