Zambrano struggles with command, velocity

Zambrano struggles with command, velocity

June 13, 2013, 11:00 pm
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Carlos Zambrano has allowed 14 hits and three earned runs in 21 1/3 innings in four official rehab outings. (AP)

ALLENTOWN, Pa. -- The Phillies didn’t waste much time in activating John Lannan after his rehab outing for Double A Reading on Wednesday night. When the veteran lefty takes his next turn on Monday, it will be at Citizens Bank Park against the Washington Nationals.

Now the Phillies are faced with another decision.

What do they do with Carlos Zambrano?

“I felt like I was ready two outings ago,” Zambrano said on Thursday night. “It’s not up to me.”

With a July 1 deadline when the pitcher can opt out of his deal with the Phillies if he is not on the big-league roster, the club can get up to three more looks at Zambrano’s progress.

But will they need it? Though the pitcher’s stats in four official rehab outings have been impressive -- a 1.27 ERA with 17 strikeouts, 11 walks and 14 hits in 21 1/3 innings -- the numbers don’t seem to match the performance.

The problems for the 32-year-old appear to be his control and his velocity -- or lack thereof. When he was battling for the National League Cy Young Award just a few years ago, Zambrano routinely threw his fastball into the mid-to-high 90s. Last Saturday for Reading and again on Thursday night at Coca-Cola Park for Lehigh Valley, Zambrano’s fastball topped out at 88 mph.

There is a good explanation for the diminished velocity, according to Zambrano.

“You have to remember that I have more than 2,000 innings on my shoulder,” Zambrano said. “I don’t know what happened today, but I was able to go out there and compete and keep the team in the game.”

Pinpoint control, of course, has never been Zambrano’s forte. In 2006 and 2007, the burly right-hander led the National League in walks and in 2004 he led the league in hit batsmen.

Against Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Thursday night, Zambrano walked four hitters, including one with the bases loaded to force in a run.

Afterwards, Zambrano said he used the outing to work on his pitches.

“It was a pretty good test for me,” Zambrano said. “The bases loaded and I gave up two runs. After the walk I was able to get the next guy out. It was pretty good. Unfortunately, I gave up two runs, but it was a good situation to work on my pitches and work on my situations.”

He definitely got his money’s worth on the pitches. Zambrano needed just 22 pitches to get through the first two innings. He retired the first eight batters before walking the No. 9 hitter, Alberto Gonzalez. A two-out single put runners on the corners and pushed Zambrano’s pitch count before he escaped.

He wasn’t as lucky in the fourth inning. That’s when Zambrano walked the leadoff hitter, gave up a line-drive double to Dan Johnson and then a sacrifice fly. Another walk followed by a single loaded the bases.

Zambrano could see the end after getting a strikeout for the second out, but that’s where Gonzalez, the No. 9 hitter, walked on a full count to send in the second run.

Zambrano was a little more efficient in the fifth inning, facing just four hitters. But by the end of the inning, his pitch count had reached 101 after needing 79 pitches to get through the third, fourth and fifth innings.

Just like he did after each of his rehab outings, Zambrano declared himself ready to join the Phillies following his performance for Lehigh Valley. Though he says he doesn’t want to work as a reliever, Zambrano appears to be caught in a numbers crunch.

Whose spot does Zambrano take in the Phillies’ rotation?

Lannan takes the rotation spot held by right-hander Tyler Cloyd, who posted a 2-2 record with a 3.41 ERA in six starts for the Phillies. Rookie Jonathan Pettibone is 3-2 with a 3.70 ERA in 10 starts and has shown poise beyond his 22 years.

That leaves Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Kyle Kendrick, and Zambrano surely won’t be replacing any of those guys.

No doubt that Zambrano is aware of the Phillies’ situation.

“I think I have to get better,” he said.

Zambrano is right on the mark on that one.