Z-Train Derailed? Carlos Zambrano Struggles in Latest Minor League Start

Z-Train Derailed? Carlos Zambrano Struggles in Latest Minor League Start

He claims he was ready to join the Phillies two outings ago, but Carlos Zambrano’s start for Lehigh Valley on Thursday might give the organization pause. As the Inquirer’s Bob Brookover saw it, Big Z was “less than dazzling” on the Triple-A stage, the fourth outing of his minor-league tryout.

The line says enough on its own. While he only allowed two runs off of four hits to go along with five strikeouts in a no decision, Zambrano was only able to make it through five innings of work, running a deep pitch count and walking four batters.

Zambrano’s numbers are still decent. He’s 2-0 with a 1.27 ERA between Clearwater, Reading, and Lehigh. However, command has increasingly become an issue. He’s awarded seven free passes between his last two appearances, running his total to 11 on the year. He has yet to last longer than six innings in a start.

If Zambrano is laboring this much against minor-league batters, what do you think is going to happen against the seasoned hitters in the show?

It’s also what doesn’t show up in the box score that is concerning. At one time one of the game’s top power pitchers, it sounds like the 32 year old might be out of juice. Here’s more from Brookover:

The quote is funny because in his prime with the Chicago Cubs, he could throw a baseball close to 100 m.p.h. What the hitters from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre saw Thursday was a steady diet of fastballs clocked at 84 to 88 m.p.h. to go along with a big-league slider.

"You have to remember that I have more than 2,000 innings in my shoulder," said Zambrano, 32. "The major leagues punish people and there is nothing I can do . . . but I was able to go out and compete and keep the team in the game."

I hate to be the one to break it to Carlos, but the Phillies were probably hoping he could do more than keep the team in games. Hell, Tyler Cloyd has done that much.

At the very least, it sounds like Zambrano will have to prove himself once more before he gets the call. Cloyd has actually held his own, and while Jonathan Pettibone was hit around some in two of his last three starts, he had been very effective up to then.

Big Z may think he’s ready, but the organization has a couple more weeks before they have to make a decision, specifically July 1. That’s the date Zambrano can opt out of his minor-league contract.

>> Zambrano less than dazzling in IronPigs outing [Inq]

Sixers being cautious with Jahlil Okafor early in training camp

Sixers being cautious with Jahlil Okafor early in training camp

GALLOWAY, N.J. — The Sixers lost Jahlil Okafor for the final 23 games last season because of a small meniscus tear in his right knee. Now they are being cautious as he prepares for his second year.

As part of the Sixers’ prescheduled load management for Okafor, he participated in a portion of practice and then worked out individually with head strength and conditioning coach Todd Wright.

“They just told me to relax once I did what they wanted me to do today,” Okafor said. “I was off to the sidelines. I feel fine. I’ll be good tomorrow.”

Okafor learned during his first NBA season that he should speak more openly with the staff about his body.

“Communication is key,” he said. “I think last year I didn’t really communicate how I was feeling, so I wasn’t able to get the help I needed.”

The team held three practice sessions in the first two days of training camp. Okafor said he knew the Sixers would be cautious with his workload. He is poised to improve upon his rookie year in which he averaged 17.5 points and 7.0 rebounds in 53 games last season.

“I’m 100 percent healthy,” he said. “I’m all good.”

Joel Embiid adjusting to new challenges in 1st NBA training camp

Joel Embiid adjusting to new challenges in 1st NBA training camp

GALLOWAY, N.J. -- With Joel Embiid's excitement to be on the court following two years of injuries comes the reality of his lengthy setback.

Embiid is participating in his first NBA training camp this week. While he has impressed with his natural abilities and improved skills, Embiid is facing challenges as he gets accustomed to the league.

"Everything is kind of off right now as far as catching the ball or shooting," Embiid said after practice Wednesday. "I've still got to get in the flow of the game."

Embiid has yet to play since being drafted in 2014. For the past two years he has worked out individually and in controlled settings. Practices, even in training camp, are different. 

"You see all the time when you realize he hasn't played basketball for a long time," Sixers head coach Brett Brown said. "He's trying to gather his feet and find his balance, he's trying to figure out stuff in real time speed on defensive assignments and rotations."

On Wednesday, Embiid went through practice without any minute restrictions and was feeling healthier from the cold and virus he had been battling (see story). Teammates have praised his physical presence and eagerness to compete. He makes an impact with his 7-foot-2 presence alone, but there is more he wants to improve. 

Embiid is adjusting to the speed of the game. He has been facing challenges with getting the ball in the post and spoke to the coaches about his frustrations. The staff explained they are focusing on pick-and-roll defense and getting out to run during training camp, but he will get that desired location in game situations. 

“You continue to see the size of Joel Embiid,” Brown said. “He's a big man and he's got a mindset to back up his physical gifts. He really wants the ball. He wants to get deep catches. He wants to dunk on people.”

Embiid always has been realistic about his transition to his rookie season. He has pointed out many times that he is a fast learner, and is anxious to soak up new knowledge and apply it to the court.

"It's really frustrating," he said. "But like I've said, you've got to trust the process, which I've been doing."