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Carlos Zambrano Isn’t Coming

Pedro Martinez trotted out of the Coca-Cola Park bullpen in a lily white #45 IronPigs jersey through humid, post-downpour, Lehigh Valley air as 10,000 people baked in a surly July sun that seemed eager to make up for the time it had lost behind the clouds that day. He took the mound as I took to my pen. Martinez wound and fired as I craned my neck to see the radar gun three rows down from the seat I was wrongfully occupying. Eighty-six miles per hour. Already uneasy as I searched my brain for a creative excuse that would allow me to remain in the scouting section whenever Fashionably Late Season Ticket Holder came to boot me out of my current seat, seeing a 40 grade fastball spew from the arm of a God sent me into a full on sweat. Michael Brantley homered a few pitches later. The scouts did not write.

Instead, they stared into the abyss, paging through mental videos of games past, searching for long forgotten clips of a young Pedro Martinez wasting hitter after hitter with any one of the weapons in his arsenal. They couldn’t find them in the 20 seconds it took Brantley to run the bases and high-five Josh Barfield, who then found his footing in the batter’s box. Eighty-eight miles per hour. Oh. Eighty-nine. Eighty-nine with life. It was coming. Ninety. Ninety-with serious life. Ninety-two. It came. Pedro Martinez did not allow another hit until the fifth inning. Elation, relief, and happiness.

Last night, as soon as Carlos Zambrano’s first pitch entered Cameron Rupp’s glove, I again peeked the guns from a seat that did not belong to me. And again, the radar guns informed us that Carlos Zambrano’s fastball did not have enough juice to power a flux capacitor. A wiser, more patient, less emotionally invested me did not worry, nor whimper nor sweat. I just waited for it to come. It never came.

Carlos Zambrano sat 85-87mph with his fastball all night, never touching anything better when I happened to be looking. With that he mixed a cutter in the low-80s, a slider that sat between 75-78mph, a splitter in the upper 70s with moderate sink and one lollipop curveball that came it at about 65mph. The slider was his best pitch. It featured two plan movement and broke late on hitters, but it became less explosive and more inconsistent as his start when on. Both Z’s control and command were fringe average at best. His arm action is easy and comfortable but the rest of the delivery is stiff, fat, unathletic, and features a front side that flies way open, way early. It was a disappointing showing in front of three Phillies front office members (including ex-IronPig Jorge Velandia who was approached by a 13 year old before the game who was no doubt a Velandia fan from his days as a Pig. Velandia recognized the kid immediately joyously shook his hand and chatted for a minute before the game. It was awesome) and a host of scouts.

I talked to two of those scouts during the game. They have Zambrano pegged as an emergency starter, organizational depth, and not someone they’d ever see the Phillies bringing up unless they absolutely had to. I asked, “Is he even an upgrade over Tyler Cloyd at this point?”

“No. And I’m not big on Cloyd.”

While even the most delusional of us didn’t think Zambrano was going to be good enough to make a discernable impact on the Phillies roster, many of us at least hoped he’d be serviceable enough to net the Phillies some low-level, interesting but low probability prospect the way Jim Thome did the year before. After last night’s showing, neither that nor the prospect of Zambrano putting on a Major League uniform again seems quite likely.