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' Darin Ruf could be facing quiet goodbye

Phillies' Darin Ruf could be facing quiet goodbye

NEW YORK — The final eight games remaining on the Phillies’ 2016 schedule will undoubtedly serve as a farewell to Ryan Howard.

Lost in the background may be the fact this week could quite possibly be the end for the man who was supposed to platoon alongside him this year, as well: Darin Ruf.

Both men have been supplanted by Tommy Joseph, who's hit 21 home runs in just 100 games this year while positioning himself as the Phillies first baseman of the near future.

Ruf will start Saturday night against Mets’ lefthander Sean Gilmartin. The Phillies are not scheduled to face a lefty starter for the rest of the season, so Saturday could be one of the final chances to see Ruf in a Phillies uniform, especially considering manager Pete Mackanin’s stated intent to give Howard more playing time down the stretch.

“It seemed like we never faced a lefty for the first month of the season. So that didn’t help Ruf at the time,” Mackanin said.  “Joseph entered the picture and made an immediate impression.”

Ruf’s departure from the majors set the stage for Joseph’s immediate emergence. At the time of his May 13 demotion to AAA Lehigh Valley – and Joseph’s promotion -- Ruf was had a .158/.206/.193 slash line.
  
Since his Sept. 1 return to the majors after rosters expanded, Ruf has done what he can to make sure his possible final season in a Phillies uniform ends on a high note. On Friday night, he drilled a home run to left center off Mets reliever Josh Smoker in pinch-hit duty, the first time Ruf had gone yard since Oct. 1, 2015.

“It felt good,” Ruf said about ending his home run drought. “You just try to simply things and last night it worked out for me.”

Where Ruf will be next year is a more complicated matter, as the 30-year-old is out of minor league options. Japanese scouts were spotted at the games he played for AAA Lehigh Valley.

With Lehigh Valley, Ruf received an opportunity he’s never truly been able to get with the Phillies due to the longstanding presence of Howard: a chance to play every day and consistently accumulate plate appearances. He hit .294/.356/.529 in 390 trips to the plate for the IronPigs. 

Ruf has never made more than 300 plate appearances in a major league season and would struggle to crack that number if he remains in Philadelphia as a backup to Joseph, who will still be 25 on opening day next year.

“I learned [this year] that you can’t take anything for granted in this game,” Ruf said. “You’ve just got to keep working to get better every day, got to put up numbers no matter where you’re at in order to get to where you want. 

“Hopefully, wherever I’m at next year, I can do that.”

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Tonight's Lineup: Jorge Alfaro catches, bats 8th vs. Mets

Tonight's Lineup: Jorge Alfaro catches, bats 8th vs. Mets

Jorge Alfaro is behind the plate for the Phillies tonight and bats eighth. Alfaro has appeared in just four games since being called up earlier this month, and has just one hit in 10 at-bats. 

Tommy Joseph is back in the lineup and batting fifth. Pete Mackanin has said that Ryan Howard would get a lot of playing time during the last few games, but it is Joseph who gets the start tonight. Joseph is batting just .154 against the Mets this season. 

Odubel Herrera, who has been hitting well in September, will remain in the three spot. He has two homers and is batting .391 over the past week. Herrera has two hits in six at-bats against Mets' starter Sean Gilmartin. 

Phillies

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Roman Quinn, RF
3. Odubel Herrera, CF 
4. Maikel Franco, 3B 
5. Tommy Joseph, 1B
6. Darin Ruf, LF
7. Freddy Galvis, SS
8. Jorge Alfaro, C
9. Alec Asher, P