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Numbers aside, Big Z feels strong after Triple-A start

Numbers aside, Big Z feels strong after Triple-A start

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ALLENTOWN, Pa. -- Carlos Zambrano hopped in frustration and yelled something into his glove after his 3-2 pitch went wide of the strike zone, walking in a run during the fourth inning of his start for Triple-A Lehigh Valley on Thursday.

However, it was the only emotion Zambrano -- who made a name for himself as a fiery player in his 12 Major League seasons -- showed.

Zambrano signed a Minor League deal with the Phillies on May 17, and in his first appearance in Triple-A this season, the 6-foot-4 right-hander needed 101 pitches to get through five innings, allowing two runs on four hits while walking four and striking out five in a no-decision. It wasn't a crisp outing, but Zambrano said he was there to work on his pitches, which he felt he did.

"Overall, I felt good. I felt strong," said Zambrano, a three-time All-Star. "Thank god that I did my job."

Big Z retired the first eight batters he faced, but ran into trouble in the fourth inning. Zambrano issued three walks and surrendered two hits in the frame, which took him 31 pitches to get through -- only 15 of which were strikes. In addition to walking in a run, Zambrano allowed a runner to cross the plate on a sacrifice fly after Scranton/Wilkes-Barre led off the inning with a walk and a double.

"It was a pretty good test. Bases loaded, I gave up two runs," Zambrano said. "After the walk, I was able to get the next guy out. It was pretty good. Unfortunately, I gave up two runs, but like I said, it was a good situation to work on my pitches and work on situations."

Last Saturday, Zambrano had a stronger outing against Double-A batters. The 32-year-old Venezuelan struck out seven, walked four and allowed one run on four hits for Reading. He has also made two scoreless starts for Class A Clearwater and two extended spring outings since signing with the Phillies.

Zambrano said he felt ready to pitch at the Major League level after his start in Reading and reiterated that point Thursday night. Though he's not sure what's next for him, Zambrano noted that it's obviously not his choice of if or when he gets called up by the Phillies. He said he has not talked with general manger Ruben Amaro Jr. since he first signed with the team.

Zambrano -- whose fastball was clocked between 86-88 mph on the stadium radar gun Thursday -- does have the option to opt out of his contract if he is not on the Major League roster by July 1. He hopes to be in Philadelphia by that point.

"I would like to [get to the Majors] before that," Zambrano said. "But I think I have to get better."

The Phillies announced John Lannan will be starting Monday against the Nationals, so it's unclear where Zambrano fits in the Major League rotation. Lannan is returning from a knee injury that forced him out for two months.

Stephen Pianovich is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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