The rotation is back on Trachsel, but whether it's back on track remains to be seen.

After Steve Traschel lasted only two innings in a 10-5 loss at Pittsburgh on Sunday afternoon, Cubs manager Lou Piniella will reluctantly hand the ball to the veteran right-hander on three days’ rest in the series finale at Houston on Thursday night.

The rotation is back on Trachsel, but whether it's back on track remains to be seen.

After Steve Traschel lasted only two innings in a 10-5 loss at Pittsburgh on Sunday afternoon, Cubs manager Lou Piniella will reluctantly hand the ball to the veteran right-hander on three days’ rest in the series finale at Houston on Thursday night.

Piniella considered rookie Kevin Hart for the assignment, but he remained true to his preference for experience in the stretch drive.

“I don't think we really have much choice,” said Piniella, whose team is in the midst of an 11-game, 10-day stretch. “(Trachsel) didn't throw many pitches (47) in Pittsburgh, so it's not like he pitched six or seven innings.”

Carlos Zambrano will pitch on five days' rest vs. the Cardinals on Friday night, when the team opens a weekend series in St. Louis.

Ted Lilly and Sean Marshall are scheduled to start the day-night doubleheader on Saturday, while Jason Marquis will finish the series on Sunday afternoon.

“This week in Houston and St. Louis will tell a lot about what happens in the division,” Pineila said.

Rich Hill will open the Sept. 17-19 series at Cincinnati followed by Zambrano and Lilly, both on three days of rest.

“We’ve watched pitch counts with our starters all year, and at the same time, our bullpen is very rested,” Piniella said. “Everybody has been in roles, and we haven’t overstepped our boundaries. We’re in good shape."

Ben but don’t break

Conventional wisdom said the Milwaukee Brewers would collapse under the weight of their own inexperience in the final month of the season.

Except that, in the Central Division, there is no such thing as conventional wisdom.

After the Cubs moved 2∏ games ahead of them by virtue of a 5-4 victory at Wrigley Field on Aug. 30, the Brewers won seven of their next nine games to reclaim the lead.

“They’ve played well to their credit,” said Piniella, whose team had a 5-6 record in that span. “They’ve got a good ballclub. They had a good homestand then went to Cincinnati and beat (the Reds) two out of three. We'll have to see how they finish.”

The Brewers seem to have regained their balance since the return of ace pitcher Ben Sheets to the rotation.

“Sometimes you need a lift,” Piniella said. “And when you get it, it all of a sudden buoys everybody's confidence.”

Knock on Wood

The Cubs had hoped for a similar boost from pitcher Kerry Wood, whose ERA ballooned to 5.52 after a meltdown Sunday.

“Kerry has been inconsistent the last few times,” said Piniella, who said Wood would remain an option in the bullpen for now. “The problem is not stuff but command. He got behind (in the count) and had to center the ball over the plate to throw strikes.”

Wood lost 48 pounds over the winter, which may have had an effect on his fastball. He has been clocked consistently in the 91- to 93-mph range since his return in August.

Overdue crew

General manager Jim Hendry acquired Trachsel and outfielder Craig Monroe for the stretch drive, but neither veteran has made a contribution yet.

In two starts, Trachsel has an 0-2 record and 10.13 ERA. Opponents have hit .382 against him.

In 11 games, Monroe has a .185 batting average, no home runs and no RBI to show for 27 official trips to the plate.

Que sera, sera

After three forgettable seasons with the low-budget Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Piniella is intent to sit back and enjoy the roller coaster ride this time.

“If you want to find something to worry about in baseball, you find it every day,” Piniella said. “I'm not worried about anything. Let’s just go out and try to win some baseball games. I mean, we're doing the best we can do. That's all we can do. Nothing more, nothing less.”