Zambrano struggles with command, velocity

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Zambrano struggles with command, velocity

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.

Phillies show fight in 7-run comeback but see 3-game winning streak snapped in loss to Brewers

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Phillies show fight in 7-run comeback but see 3-game winning streak snapped in loss to Brewers

BOX SCORE

The big-picture implications of Jeremy Hellickson’s start Saturday against Milwaukee — i.e., his trade value, potential destination, etc. — were left to others to ponder.

Hellickson was more concerned about smaller matters.

Like the eight pitches he threw to Eric Thames in the third inning.

Or the three batters who followed Thames.

In Hellickson’s mind, that’s where the game was lost, as opposed to when the Brewers’ Domingo Santana lined a single to left off Hector Neris in the ninth, chasing home the tie-breaking run in a 9-8 Milwaukee victory (see Instant Replay).

Hellickson, left with a messy no-decision after the Phillies wiped out an 8-1 deficit, was more than willing to shoulder responsibility for the result.

“It just sucks, you know, scoring eight runs and you lose,” the veteran right-hander said. “Usually that falls on the starter, which it did tonight.”

Others might point to the decision by manager Pete Mackanin to bunt amid a three-run eighth inning or the sign that was missed by rookie Cameron Perkins on that play. But that was Hellickson’s story, and he was sticking to it.

In his next-to-last outing before the July 31 trade deadline, he was nicked for six runs in five innings. His ERA, 1.80 in April, is 5.81 since. He is in the last year of his contract and thus might have value as a rental to some team looking for an arm.

But again, there’s the small picture.

“That's not a start I want,” he said, “no matter what's going on.”

Lost in the debris was a 4 for 4 night by Odubel Herrera, who’s hitting .331 since June 1, not to mention three-run homers by Cesar Hernandez and Cameron Rupp, the second of which forged the 8-8 tie in the eighth.

“That was a tough one to take,” Mackanin said. “You’re down by seven runs, 8-1. I thought we had the momentum going in our favor, and we just couldn’t get it done.”

Hellickson rolled through the first two innings, and had two outs and a man on in the third when Thames came to the plate.

An eight-pitch duel following, ending with a walk.

“That was a good at-bat,” Hellickson said. “He put a couple good at-bats on me today. Especially with the humidity and (Ryan) Braun coming up, it was a good at-bat.”

Braun, a certified Phillie-killer (.379 lifetime against them, .398 in Citizens Bank Park), had lined a single through the box in the first. This time he roped a double into the right field corner to score the game’s first two runs.

Braun took third on the throw, then scored on a wild pitch with Travis Shaw at the plate. Shaw rocketed Hellickson’s 2-1 changeup to center for a double and came home when Santana singled on a first-pitch curveball.

So, 4-0.

“I think (the start) was good except for that four-batter span there in that third inning,” Hellickson said. “Can't walk Thames with two outs. … I’ve just got to find a way to get out of that inning after the second out.”

Braun, 3 for 3 in the game, also hit a two-run homer in the fifth. Herrera, who also doubled twice, answered with a solo shot in the bottom of that inning.

Milwaukee’s lead grew to 8-1 in the seventh. Braun drew a walk from reliever Adam Morgan, but Morgan later had him dead to rights on a pickoff attempt. Trouble is, first baseman Tommy Joseph overthrew second base, and leftfielder Howie Kendrick allowed the ball to get through him. Braun, as a result, came all the way around to score.

The paying customers, you may be sure, were not thrilled — even less so when Shaw followed with a homer.

The comeback followed. Four runs in the seventh, including Hernandez’s tracer into the seats in right-center. Rupp’s opposite-field shot an inning later.

Perkins singled after Rupp’s homer, the Phillies’ fourth straight hit off struggling reliever Jacob Barnes. Mackanin then asked Hernandez to sacrifice, but he popped up to Shaw, who was charging from third.

Perkins “misinterpreted” the sign, according to Mackanin, thinking the hit-and-run was on. He was, as a result, doubled off first. Inning over. Comeback, too.

“It was fun to watch,” Hellickson said of the rally. “Just got to find a way to get that third out with nobody on base.”

That’s how things looked from his vantage point, anyway. Others were, in the meantime, scanning the big picture.

Best of MLB: Cubs rally in 8th, edge Cardinals after pitchers' duel

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Best of MLB: Cubs rally in 8th, edge Cardinals after pitchers' duel

CHICAGO -- Kris Bryant galloped home from first base on Anthony Rizzo's bloop double, capping a three-run rally in the eighth inning that sent the Chicago Cubs over the St. Louis Cardinals 3-2 Saturday in the ever-tightening NL Central race.

A classic pitchers' duel between Jon Lester and Adam Wainwright kept it scoreless into the eighth. The Cubs began the day one game behind shaky Milwaukee for the division lead, with the Cardinals 3 1/2 back of the Brewers.

After Paul DeJong and Randal Grichuk hit two-out homers off Lester for a 2-0 lead, the Cubs came back.

Ben Zobrist's RBI double with two outs made it 2-1 and chased Wainwright. Bryant greeted reliever Matt Bowman (2-4) with a broken-bat single that tied it.

Brett Cecil then relieved and on a 3-2 pitch, Rizzo followed a looper toward left-center. Bryant ran hard the whole way and slid home as catcher Yadier Molina couldn't control center fielder Dexter Fowler's one-hop throw.

Lester (7-6), who had a perfect game until Wainwright singled with two outs in the sixth, struck out 10. Wade Davis walked a pair with two outs before striking out Molina for his 19th saves in 19 chances (see full recap).

Hundley's single lifts Giants past Padres in 12
SAN FRANCISCO -- Nick Hundley singled in Kelby Tomlinson with two outs in the 12th inning, lifting the San Francisco Giants to a 5-4 victory over the San Diego Padres on Saturday.

Pinch-hitter Tomlinson reached on a fielder's choice and took second on a wild pitch from Kevin Quackenbush (0-2). After Hunter Pence flied out, Hundley lined an 0-1 pitch over the head of left fielder Jose Pirela as Tomlinson rounded third and scored without a throw.

It was the Giants' second win in the last nine games against their division rivals at AT&T Park.

Eduardo Nunez had three hits and two RBIs, Hundley singled twice and San Francisco took advantage of an error by San Diego shortstop Allen Cordoba that led to three unearned runs.

Will Myers hit his second homer in two days as part of San Diego's four-run fourth but the Padres wasted multiple opportunities and lost for the fourth time in six games (see full recap).

Rangers turn 3 Rays miscues into win
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Texas turned three Tampa Bay miscues into a three-run sixth inning and the Rangers beat the Rays 4-3 on Saturday night.

The Rangers took a 4-3 lead during the decisive sixth when two runs scored after center fielder Mallex Smith misplayed Adrian Beltre's two-out deep fly ball, and Beltre scored on two wild pitches by Chris Archer with Mike Napoli at the plate.

Elvis Andrus, who entered the series hitless in 16 at-bats, homered in his second consecutive three-hit game for the Rangers, who have won two straight following a five-game skid.

Andrew Cashner (5-8) gave up three runs and four hits over six innings. Alex Claudio, the third Rangers reliever, got four outs for his fourth save.

Claudio went two scoreless innings in Texas' 4-3, 10-inning win over the Rays Friday night to get his second win.

Archer (7-6) allowed four runs, four hits and struck out 11 to set a team record with his 24th career game with double-digit strikeouts. game. David Price had 23 double-digit strikeout games with the Rays (see full recap).

Lindor's home run in 10th inning lifts Indians past Toronto
CLEVELAND -- Francisco Lindor hit a leadoff home run in the bottom of the 10th inning and the Cleveland Indians defeated the Toronto Blue Jays 2-1 on Saturday night.

Lindor hit a 2-2 pitch from Danny Barnes (2-3) to right field for his 15th homer of the season just as a hard rain began to fall. Lindor dashed around the bases and was mobbed his teammates at home plate and was doused by several coolers of water.

The Progressive Field grounds crew put the tarp on the field while Cleveland's players were still celebrating the victory.

Bryan Shaw (3-4) retired Kevin Pillar on a groundout with two on to end the 10th.

Danny Salazar came off the disabled list and held Toronto to one hit in seven innings. Cleveland led 1-0, but Justin Smoak homered on Andrew Miller's first pitch in the eighth (see full recap).