DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Carlos Zambrano didn't know exactly where he was going after throwing six shutout innings Sunday evening for Class A Clearwater, but he knew wherever he landed would put him one step closer to joining the Phillies.
Zambrano worked six innings against Dunedin and threw 78 pitches, giving up four hits and two walks while striking out three. Of the 18 outs he recorded, 10 came on the ground. As good as he felt about the outing, he was even more pleased to know he'd be hopping on a plane Monday morning to head to either Double-A Reading or Triple-A Lehigh Valley.
"I'm going to Double-A or Triple-A. And after that, I think I will be ready and I will wait for the call," Zambrano said at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium. "But I feel good. I thank God that all my pitches are working good. We'll see."
Zambrano threw 4 1/3 scoreless innings in his first start with the Clearwater Threshers on Tuesday and probably needs at least one more start before the Phillies consider him for a spot on the Major League roster. He'd be in line to pitch again Friday, when Reading is at home and Lehigh Valley is on the road in Buffalo.
"I'm going to wait for the call," said Zambrano, who signed a Minor League contract he can ask out of if he's not on the Phillies' roster by July 1. "Whatever they want me to do -- one more outing, whatever. ... I'm ready to pitch in the big leagues."
Zambrano acknowledged that there is a massive difference between pitching against the Dunedin Blue Jays and a Major League lineup. But he was happy with the way he threw Sunday, working quick innings and forcing hitters to put the ball on the ground. He looked especially sharp in his first two innings, perfect frames with six groundouts on 18 pitches, including 13 strikes, and he touched 90 mph with his sinker in the first inning.
"That's the idea. The idea is to build up the arm and innings and pitch count and be ready for the big leagues," Zambrano said. "Today was good. If I keep throwing strikes like I did today, like I've been doing in the Minor Leagues -- obviously, the more you go up the leagues, you will find better hitters. And of course in the big leagues, you have to pitch [like you're] capable of pitching in the big leagues."
Zambrano has struggled with his command throughout his career, and that was again the case last season with the Marlins. He went 7-10 with a 4.49 ERA and walked 75 batters in 132 1/3 innings.
"It's easier when you throw strikes. When I'm throwing strikes, when the sinker's working, when everything's working, just let them play pepper with the shortstop, third baseman, whatever," he said. "I'm a ground-ball pitcher. I demonstrated that today, but this is not the level that I want to play.
"I want to play at the high level, which is the big leagues, and I'm preparing myself for that."
That's what Zambrano worked toward all spring, as he threw bullpen sessions and faced hitters at the University of Miami. It's been on his mind since he chose to sign with the Phillies over the Orioles and Blue Jays, in part because he'll get to make a few trips back home to Miami but more importantly because he likes the Phillies' chances of competing in the National League East.
And he hopes that, when he arrives at whatever destination the Phillies set for him Monday morning, he's only one step away from getting there.
"When I did the showcase, it was Baltimore, [the] Blue Jays and the Phillies. I chose this team because I think they have more chances," Zambrano said. "Nothing wrong with Baltimore or [Toronto], but I like this team better. I think this team has a chance, the material to compete. I'm not saying Baltimore or the Blue Jays don't have it. They both have a great, great team, but I decided to come here."