Victor Zambrano must already feel like he’s pitched a full season.
Demoted to the minors after a dismal first two months, Zambrano emerged as Tampa Bay’s most dominant pitcher after a late May call up.
He’ll try to resume that success when the Devil Rays continue a four-game series with the Texas Rangers at the Ballpark in Arlington.
Zambrano began the year as manager Lou Piniella’s No. 2 starter, but went 0-2 with a 6.91 ERA in his first four starts, walking 21 and striking out eight. Piniella sent him to the bullpen, where he failed to impress, yielding at least one run in all but one of his five appearances.
Sent to the minors with an ugly 6.29 ERA in 10 outings, Zambrano returned with a vengeance later in the month. He is 5-2 with a 2.58 ERA since rejoining the Devil Rays on May 24, and entered the break 4-0 in his last six starts.
On Sunday, he allowed five runs and six hits over eight innings, and issued a season-low one walk in a 6-5 victory over Piniella’s former club, the Seattle Mariners.
“He’s been pitching very well for us,” Piniella said of Zambrano, who threw 65 of his 100 pitches for strikes and became the team leader in wins with six. “His bugaboo earlier in the year was the base on balls … It wasn’t that they were hitting him. He was getting himself in trouble.”
Zambrano will be hard-pressed to outdo the performance of Jeremi Gonzalez. The right-hander allowed just five hits over eight brilliant innings as the Devil Rays blanked the Rangers 2-0 on Friday, avenging a 12-6 defeat in Thursday’s series opener.
Rocco Baldelli had a pair of RBI singles for Tampa Bay, which posted its third shutout of the season.
The Rangers, who have dropped four of five, were held scoreless for the eighth time this year.
The start of Friday’s game was delayed 19 minutes to determine if Devil Rays outfielder Carl Crawford was eligible to play.
Crawford had appealed a three-game suspension for his role in a fight with the Pittsburgh Pirates on June 13. He was allowed to remain in the starting lineup Friday after a series of discussions and phone calls made from the Tampa Bay dugout.
STANDINGS (through July 17): Rangers - 4th place, 19 GB, AL West. Devil Rays - 5th place, 25 1/2 GB, AL East.
RANGERS PROBABLE STARTER: Joaquin Benoit (4-4, 5.24 ERA). Benoit allowed a run over two innings of relief in Sunday’s 8-2 loss to Kansas City. In his last start, the right-hander yielded one run and four hits over seven solid innings in a 4-1 victory over Minnesota. Benoit is 2-3 in his last five starts, but has surrendered two earned runs or fewer in three of those outings. He is 1-1 with an 8.56 ERA in three career starts against the Devil Rays.
DEVIL RAYS PROBABLE STARTER: Zambrano (6-4, 3.84 ERA). Zambrano is 2-1 with a 5.14 ERA in four career appearances, including two starts, against Rangers.
OFFENSIVE LEADERS: Rangers - Michael Young, .323 avg.; Juan Gonzalez, 24 HRs and 70 RBIs; Alex Rodriguez, 61 runs; Young and Rodriguez, 7 SBs. Devil Rays - Aubrey Huff, .306 avg., 17 HRs, 52 RBIs and 49 runs; Crawford, 23 SBs.
SEASON SERIES: Rangers, 5-2.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Rangers - DH Rafael Palmeiro and 3B Hank Blalock returned to the starting lineup Friday after being rested Thursday and went a combined 1-for-8. … SS Rodriguez has made just one error in his last 39 games. … Texas has been held to two runs or fewer in three of its last four games. Devil Rays - All-Star RHP Lance Carter has converted 16 of 22 save opportunities this season. … Piniella is tied with Chuck Tanner for 24th place on the career list with 1,352 wins. … DH Ben Grieve was hospitalized with a small blood clot in his right upper arm Friday. Grieve reported discomfort before the game after working out in the weight room. The team said Grieve is in good condition and will be re-evaluated Saturday.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Rangers - 16-29 on the road; Devil Rays - 20-29 at home.
INJURIES: Rangers - OF Kevin Mench (wrist), 15-day DL; RHP Chan Ho Park (oblique), 15-day DL; RHP Jeff Zimmerman (elbow), 60-day DL; INF Herbert Perry (shoulder), 60-day DL; OF Rusty Greer (neck), 60-day DL. Devil Rays - SS Rey Ordonez (knee), 15-day DL; RHP Seth McClung (elbow), 60-day DL.