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.

Twins 4, Phillies 2: Aaron Nola encouraged by good health, still looking for command

Twins 4, Phillies 2: Aaron Nola encouraged by good health, still looking for command

BOX SCORE

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Aaron Nola has not had a great spring.

But in the big picture, well, maybe he has.

Nola was one of the Phillies' biggest and most important question marks coming into camp. He had missed the final two months of the 2016 season because of an elbow injury. All he needed to do this spring to be in the starting rotation was show that he was healthy.

He's done that.

He pitched 5 2/3 innings against the Minnesota Twins and threw 82 pitches in his fifth start of the spring on Thursday. He gave up six hits, including a two-run homer, walked one and struck out six.

He's up to 17 2/3 innings for the spring -- without an elbow issue.

"I'm over that," Nola said after the game. "My elbow feels really good. I haven't had any pain or problems with it. I don't even think about it throwing or in games.

"Everything has been very positive. My body is healthy."

Nola, who lines up to fill the fifth spot in the Phillies' rotation, hasn't had good results this spring. He has given up 19 hits and 13 earned runs. But, again, the Phillies were only looking for good health.

"He's been working on his changeup," manager Pete Mackanin said. "Today, he threw more changeups than I've ever seen him throw. The changeup he threw for the home run, he admitted, 'I would never throw that pitch in a game.' But he's working on it, trying to get it going for him, and I think it's going to be a good pitch for him. 

"He really pitched better than the result he got. He had a lot of work with his changeup, which is important. He was as sharp as we've seen him."

Coming into camp, Mackanin was concerned about Nola's health.

"I'm less concerned right now," the manager said. "It's always going to be in the back of my mind. But it's good to see 92, 93, 94 (mph) coming out of his hand, which is important. Once he regains that command, and he showed real good command of his fastball down in the zone today, he's going to be back to where he was -- with even maybe a little more velocity. We'll see. But the changeup is going to help him. I'm very encouraged."

The game
The Phillies lost, 4-2, to the Twins.

The Phils had 10 hits, two by Odubel Herrera, who homered.

Andrew Knapp, pushing to make the club, started behind the plate and had a double.

The Phillies were just 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position and left nine men on base.

The Phils' bullpen -- Sean Burnett, Edubray Ramos and Hector Neris -- accounted for 3 1/3 innings of scoreless ball.

Up next
The Phils play the Yankees in Tampa on Friday. Jeremy Hellickson will start against CC Sabathia.

Larry Bowa, Charlie Manuel reflect on special bond with Dallas Green

Larry Bowa, Charlie Manuel reflect on special bond with Dallas Green

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- An impromptu homage to Dallas Green broke out on the field at the Phillies' spring training home Thursday morning.

Larry Bowa, who played for Green on the 1980 World Series championship team, was there.

So was Charlie Manuel, the only other manager other than Green to lead a Phillies team to a World Series title.

They told tales of Green's tough exterior and warm heart.

Bowa even shed a tear.

A couple of hours later, there were a few more tears in the stands as the team honored Green with a moment of silence the day after he died at 82.

Green's old jersey, No. 46, hung in the dugout for the Phillies-Twins game.

"It was tough last night," Bowa said. "I just couldn't believe it. This guy meant the world to us. We don't win a World Series without Dallas. It doesn't matter if we've got 10 Pete Roses, we don't win a World Series without Dallas. 

"He taught me a lot about being mentally tough and giving everything you have, every pitch, nine innings. Never quit. He was a guy that told our team, 'Look in the mirror. You're not as good as you think you are.' He said, 'Anybody can win divisions, go win a World Series. Put a ring on somebody's finger.'"

The Phillies had great talent in the late 1970s but always came one step short of the World Series. Green came in late in the 1979 season and was a stun gun to a complacent team. A year later, they were World Series champions.

"He said, 'I don't care what you did yesterday. What can you do today to help the Phillies win?' He got everybody's attention," Bowa said. "Yeah, we had a lot of give and take, screaming. I think everybody respected him. That's the bottom line. Eventually, when you get done playing, you realize how important he was to the Phillies in 1980."

Bowa was a critic of Green's in the lead up to the World Series. He recalled the give and take with the manager, which wasn't always sugar and spice and everything nice.

After one particularly poor game, Green left his office door open as he spoke with reporters. During the interview session, Green loudly questioned the team's desire and said the group was not as good as it thought it was. The players in the clubhouse heard it all because Green wanted them to -- and, of course, because his voice naturally boomed.

After Green's session with the media that night, a reporter approached Bowa and asked if he'd heard Green's loud commentary.

Of course, Bowa had heard it.

And he was fired up.

"Go ask Dallas how many games he won in the big leagues," Bowa told the writer, poking at Green's modest 20-22 record as a big-league pitcher.

When the writer informed Green of Bowa's barb, Green responded with a loud, "Touche, Bo. Touche."

"He wanted you to hear things," Bowa said.

That was one of his ways of challenging people. And he really liked to challenge players. It was his way of inspiring and separating the weak from the strong.

Manuel compared that to one of his former managers, Billy Martin.

"He was like a Billy Martin kind of guy," Manuel said. "He'll tell you what he expects out of you, but at the same time, he'll tell you that you can't do something. That's a big challenge to you. When you show him that you can do it, that's when he's on your side and he thinks the world of you. That's the time you become his guy."

Manuel became Green's guy after the two had a public spat in 2006. In a radio interview, Green, then a member of the team's front office, had criticized the way Manuel's Phillies were playing. In particular, he said the team lacked fundamentals. Manuel was furious that a member of the front office would criticize him publicly. A month or so later, as the Phillies rallied themselves into wild-card contention, Manuel and Green came face to face on the field before a game at Citizens Bank Park.

Manuel unloaded on Green.

And Green took his medicine.

From that confrontation, respect and understanding grew. Manuel and Green became great friends and frequent dinner partners. A few years later, Green admitted to a reporter that he was wrong for scuffing Manuel and he thanked Manuel for showing him that there are other ways to run a team than just the way he did it.

"I showed him," Manuel said. "When I look back, maybe he was testing me. But I understood him and I think at the end he felt he understood me."

On the night the Phillies won the World Series in 2008, Manuel and Green, members of an elite, two-man club, sat in Manuel's office and reflected.

"He was very happy," Manuel said. "Him and I had a few drinks of VO. I think I outdrank him, really. But, of course, when he won back in 1980 he would have outdrank me.

"Everything about it was good. He was just as happy as I was and I can't tell you how happy I was.

"He was always around and he definitely pulled for the Phillies day in and day out.

"Baseball's going to miss Dallas Green.

"I'm going to miss him."