Tuesday, June 12, 2007

a zambrano breakout?

prior to yesterday's 2-1 win, it was revealed that aramis ramirez is going to be laid up for a bit.

Ramirez's left patellar tendinitis may prevent him from being able to accelerate for quite some time after he returns. ... Since the DL time is retroactive to last Thursday, Ramirez is expected to return for the White Sox series on June 22 at U.S. Cellular Field.

it will be interesting to see how the cubs fare without ramirez and with derrek lee -- the third main cog in the cub offense, along with a streaking alfonso soriano -- struggling mightily. it was noted earlier this year that lee's pace was unsustainable as it was conditional on nothing so much as absurdly good luck, but this writer sincerely doubts most anyone had in mind 23 games of 224/295/400.

lee's hit chart, however, has been improving.

first the old -- this was his home chart from mid-may.

this is how it appears today -- with lee clearly pulling the ball more effectively, nullifying some of the concern this page expressed in asking:

is this a durable change provoked by recovery from injury? is it a result of the league making adjustments and taking a different approach to lee? this page wouldn't feel qualified to speculate, frankly, but both options must be on the table for consideration.

getting around on the ball as he is now, an appropriate measure of power will very probably return for lee even if the miracle man of 2005 is never seen again.

but by far the most encouraging sign for the cubs in some time was last night's performance by carlos zambrano -- eight innings, three hits, one walk, eight strikeouts. explicit expressions of concern on the part of this writer for zambrano's health seem often to coincide with the eve of such outings.

he was given a chance to lose the game in the eighth when, having thrown 107 pitches through seven, lou piniella ran him back out to the mound. the mouldering corpse of craig biggio sent the third out to the very ivy in the left field well with a man on, and zambrano was lucky to escape. the final frame saw his mechanics completely askew -- with a dropping elbow, faltering control, leaving pitches up with decaying velocity, he was a textbook case of fatigue-altered mechanics. this writer finds it stunning and unconscionable that, regardless of the bullpen situation, piniella allowed him to throw 128 pitches given the evidence of zambrano's altered mechanics -- the manager has to expect that, even if it isn't being admitted, something could be wrong. but the cubs have been apparently oblivious -- zambrano is once again ranked second in all of baseball in stress, throwing more pitches per start than any other arm in the game, and it seems as though the management of zambrano has changed not at all in leaving the disastrous dusty baker behind.

this page would like to claim its fears allayed unconditionally, but -- though such an appearance is a good sign -- zambrano will merit closer observation than ever following this extended outing. his last five starts still aggregate to a 4.50 era and 1.35 whip over 34 innings, which is improved from earlier this season but hardly the material of the 2005 version. you may think it ungenerous, dear reader, but it will take more positives than what we've seen to put this writer's suspicions back in the closet.

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