CINCINNATI -- Right-hander Carlos Zambrano was upbeat Friday about his chances of returning to the Chicago Cubs' rotation in a week, optimistic that an anti-inflammatory injection and rest will be enough to heal his aching shoulder.
Zambrano rejoined the team for the start of a series against the Cincinnati Reds one day after he got a medical test that detected inflammation in his right shoulder. He had to rest for two days after getting an injection, and hoped to be back in the rotation next weekend.
Zambrano's sore shoulder sent a shiver through Cubs fans waiting for something to go wrong in their dash to the postseason. The NL Central leaders had lost a season-high five in a row heading into the weekend series, and their rotation seemed to be falling apart.
The Cubs are accustomed to tough times. This is the 100th anniversary season of their last World Series win. They won the division last season, clinching during a visit to Cincinnati, but failed to make it past the first round of the playoffs.
Even the trip to the ballpark is becoming an odyssey these days.
Manager Lou Piniella and first base coach Matt Sinatro decided to drive to Cincinnati from Chicago on Friday. With Sinatro behind the wheel and directions at hand from a Google search, the two set out at 8 a.m. and headed across the northern part of Indiana and Ohio.
With Piniella catching up on sleep, the pair kept going past the turnoff for Interstate 75 that would take them south to Cincinnati. They kept going east and were closing in on the Pennsylvania border when they realized something was badly wrong.
"We stopped at one of the [gas] stations along the way, and I bought a map to see exactly where we were," Piniella said. "And we realized we were in the opposite end of the state.
"It wasn't his fault. I was in the car also. I probably shouldn't have taken the nap."
They worked their way back toward Columbus in the middle of the state, navigating across rain-slicked, two-lane roads. They finally made it to Great American Ball Park at 5 p.m., completing a trip that took eight hours across two time zones.
"Let me tell you: I wanted to get my mind off baseball for a little bit, I sure as heck did," Piniella said.
At least he had good news awaiting. Harden threw on Friday and felt much better, keeping him in line to start on Wednesday in St. Louis. And Zambrano hopes to play catch on Sunday, working toward a start next weekend in Houston.
"So that's really good news if it happens," Piniella said. "But we want to make sure that this guy is OK. If it's iffy, we're not going to take a chance."
Zambrano tried to clear up the mystery over his medical test this week. There were reports that he had missed a scheduled MRI exam on Wednesday, when his wife had surgery. Zambrano said he had the team's permission to spend time with his wife before going for the test.
When he learned he was scheduled for an arthrogram instead of an MRI, he was concerned. An arthrogram involves injecting fluid into the shoulder to get sharper results, but sidelines the player for much longer. Zambrano said he told the doctors that he wanted the MRI so he could get back to pitching faster.
The doctors went along, and he had the MRI on Thursday.
"I didn't do it because I didn't want to miss three starts [after an arthrogram]," Zambrano said. "I knew I was feeling better and I didn't have to do the arthrogram. I just wanted to do the plain MRI, the normal one. It was OK with me to do that."