Thursday, June 23, 2005

what's wrong with z?

probably nothing. i didn't see a lot of crushed balls (excepting el caballo's shot) in zambrano's disaster inning last night.

however, this is the third straight troublesome outing for z, and i don't think that's just nothing. z is not locating like he should. it isn't that he's all over the place. to take a closer look: june 11 he walked four throwing 62% strikes; june 17, six while throwing 57%. that isn't so terrible, really -- during his amazing may, he tossed 63% strikes.

but his control in the strike zone isn't quite what it was. he's leaving balls over the heart of the plate more frequently. while his extraordinary movement keeps those balls from getting drilled, he is getting hit -- 21 hits in his last 13 innings, to be exact. even earlier in june, derrek lee noticed, "His stuff is so electric... He didn't have his best command, but he knows when he needs a pitch how to get it done."

one would like to blame it on zambrano's turf toe, which forced him out on june 11. but lee's remarks came in the previous start, and zambrano had labored through 98 pitches in the five innings he pitched that day before the slide and injury.

this kind of loss of fine control can be a symptom of simple fatigue -- and god knows z might be fatigued, as the second-most-abused pitcher in baseball this year. particularly insidious, i felt, was the june 17 start in which he tossed 116 pitches in just five difficult innings. so perhaps it's not surprising that, on his very next time out, zambrano didn't have much going. quite a similar thing happened in the aftermath of that notorious may 8 136-pitch complete game, which was followed by a truncated outing and an mri. (oh, but that was internet-related -- email. yeah. right.)

if one had to point a finger at a moment where things seem to have turned, in fact, it might be in the aftermath of his brilliant 124-pitch eight-inning effort of may 31. zambrano has since racked up an 8.10 ERA, yielding 24 hits and walking 14 in 20 innings.

was that a bridge too far for zambrano -- the last straw of the haystack of pitcher abuse whose weight destroyed wood and prior in previous years? hard to say. this could be just some more paranoia on my part. even if i'm right, maybe last night's shortened 51-pitch start will provide some relief. but zambrano, along with every cub starter under dusty's management, bears watching for signs of wearing down and falling apart.

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