Monday, April 24, 2006
The Zambrano files
Who the hell is Victor Zambrano and why is he starting games for the Mets? Signed as an amateur free agent by the Yankees in 1993 and released 3 years later, the Venezuelan-born righthander was picked up by the Devil Rays in 1996. It took another 5 years for him to be promoted to the big leagues, not a good sign. Pitching for baseball's worst franchise, Zambrano managed to post a winning record (35-27) from 2001 to 2004, when he was moved to the Mets for their top pitching prospect, lefty Scott Kazmir, at the trading deadline. Former GM Jim Duquette, desperate to steer the team to a playoff run, made two deals on July 30: Ty Wigginton for Kris Benson and the Zambrano trade. Both have backfired, and of course Duquette is no longer with the club (he's now the Orioles' GM). What did Duquette and pitching coach Rick Peterson (and reportedly veteran staff ace at the time, Al Leiter) see in Zambrano, who'd allowed 21 HRs in 2003 and has a career 4.38 ERA?
Stats Inc. says about Zambrano: "The Mets saw untapped potential in Zambrano. He has a filthy repertoire, featuring a 92-94 MPH sinking fastball, an excellent changeup and an effective slider. He has trouble with his command and tends to finesse hitters by working the corners instead of challenging them with his nasty arsenal. His pitch counts can be outrageous because he falls behind in the count, which leads to an excessive number of walks. If he would trust his stuff and go after hitters on a consistent basis, Zambrano could be dominant."
After he won his first 2 games in 2004 and the Mets failed to make the playoffs, they rewarded Zambrano, who'd been earning $325,000 in Tampa Bay, with a $2.1 million contract. Pitching in the pressure-packed NL East, he went 7-12 in 27 starts with a 4.12 ERA, struck out 112 and allowed 12 HRs in 2005. Zambrano was wildly inconsistent, at best. Plagued by a poor bullpen, GM Omar Minaya traded two starters - Benson and Jae Seo - for relievers in the off-season. However, he held on to Zambrano, who's so far become one of the Mets' major player issues of the young season.
Yesterday's game was typical Zambrano. After the first-inning HR, he gave up 2 singles in the 2nd and 2 walks in the 3rd, but escaped damage. He didn't in the 4th. With 2 outs, Padres' rookie pitcher Clay Hensley blooped a single to CF. Suddenly, the floodgates opened. Zambrano walked Dave Roberts and Barfield singled to load the bases for Giles, who drove a 3-2 pitch into the right-field stands. Manager Willie Randolph pinch hit for Zambrano in the 5th.
The Mets gamely fought back with 4 runs in the 6th (Endy Chavez delivered a 2-out, 2-run bases loaded single), but relievers Pedro Feliciano and Chad Bradford were tagged for 1 run each in their respective innings, and the Mets never scored again.
Carlos Beltran (strained right hamstring) was not in the lineup, nor was slumping Jose Reyes, though he pinch hit during the 6th-inning rally and stayed in the game.
Ex-Met Mike Cameron (traded for Xavier Nady), fresh off the DL, played his first game for he Padres; he walked in 4 ABs. Mike Piazza did not play
The Mets (12-6) lost a game in the standings to the Braves (9-9), who defeated Washington, 3-1. The Mets lead the division by 3 games. The Braves next series starts in Milwaukee tonight.
Next game: Monday, April 24 in San Francisco, 10:15 pm start on SNY & WFAN, Tom Glavine (2-1, 1.38) vs. Matt Cain (0-2, 6.75)
For more on the Mets: CLICK HERE
AROUND THE HORN
* The Yankees took 2 out of 3 games from the Orioles, winning 7-1 yesterday behind Randy Johnson (3-2). They host the Devil Rays, starting Tuesday.
* Barry Bonds tells my brother Barry Bloom at MLB.com that he doesn't think he'll be able to pass Hank Aaron. "Heck no," Bonds says about achieving the all-time HR record. "I'm happy with what I've already done. If I get it, I get it; if I don't, so be it. That's life, baby. That's life. It was fun while it lasted." To read the full story: CLICK HERE