Victor Zambrano has emerged as the best starter in a very weak rotation.
The right-hander will try to give manager Lou Piniella his first win against his former team since leaving Seattle when the Tampa Bay Devil Rays resume a three-game series with the Mariners at Safeco Field.
Zambrano is 4-1 in his last eight starts, yielding two runs or fewer in all but one of those outings. He allowed two unearned runs and four hits over eight strong innings on July 4, but did not receive a decision in the Devil Rays’ 4-3 win over the Chicago White Sox.
Zambrano struck out four, but walked six for a second straight game, throwing a season-high 121 pitches.
“He’s getting better and better,” Piniella said. “We’re going to give him a breather, also. He threw his highest pitch count of the year. He’s coming along just the way we anticipated in spring training.”
Zambrano leads Tampa Bay starters in ERA and strikeouts (56), and his five wins tie him with All-Star reliever Lance Carter for the club lead.
The Devil Rays couldn’t provide Piniella with a win in his return to Seattle, the city where he managed for 10 years before heading to Tampa Bay this season.
“It was well worth coming here for. It really was,” said Piniella, who received a heartfelt welcome from the fans and a video tribute before the game.
“I would have liked to win but it was a night I’ll remember forever. Hopefully, that’s all said and done and now we can play baseball for two more days.”
The Devil Rays have lost three straight and four of five after winning three in a row for the first time this season.
STANDINGS: Devil Rays - 5th place, 24 1/2 GB, AL East. Mariners - 1st place, AL West.
DEVIL RAYS PROBABLE STARTER: Zambrano (5-4, 3.69 ERA). Zambrano is 1-0 with a 4.91 ERA in three career relief appearances against the Mariners.
MARINERS PROBABLE STARTER: Gil Meche (10-4, 3.35 ERA). Meche had won seven straight decisions before Sunday’s 5-1 loss to Texas. The right-hander was reached for five runs and six hits over four innings, striking out three and walking two. Meche is making his first career appearance against Tampa Bay.
OFFENSIVE LEADERS: Devil Rays - Rocco Baldelli, .308 avg.; Aubrey Huff, 16 HRs, 49 RBIs and 47 runs; Carl Crawford, 21 SBs. Mariners - Ichiro Suzuki, .349 avg., 66 runs and 24 SBs.; Bret Boone, 23 HRs and 75 RBIs.
SEASON SERIES: Mariners, 1-0.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Devil Rays - The Devil Rays lead the AL with 98 infield hits. … OF Ben Grieve, 1B Travis Lee and C Javier Valentin are a combined 1-for-8 against RHP Meche. None of the other Devil Rays have ever faced Meche. … RHP Zambrano is 1-2 with a 3.18 ERA in eight appearances, including five starts, on the road this season. Mariners - OF Suzuki is riding a 10-game hitting streak, his fourth streak of at least 10 this season. He leads the AL with 45 multihit games and has had at least two hits in nine of the last 10. … The Mariners are hitting .300 (6-for-20) with two homers and four RBIs against RHP Zambrano. … Seattle barely won the season series against Tampa Bay last year under Piniella, taking five of the nine meetings.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Devil Rays - 12-31 on the road; Mariners - 26-19 at home.