The last time Barry Zito faced Tampa Bay, the Devil Rays handed the left-hander one of his worst losses of the season.
Zito looks to reverse that outcome as the Oakland Athletics complete a three-game series at Tropicana Field.
After earning the AL Cy Young Award by going 23-5 with a 2.75 ERA last year, Zito has struggled for most of this year.
Though his 3.20 ERA is fifth-best in the AL, Zito has split his first 22 decisions, including a 9-3 loss to the Devil Rays—his first in five career starts against Tampa Bay—July 8.
Zito was pounded for seven runs and a career-high 15 hits over only 5 1-3 innings.
“Of course it looks worse when you get hit by a team that’s not Seattle or the Yankees, but when you’re not on your game, there’s very little leeway, even against a team below .500,” said Zito after the poor outing.
Zito was significantly better his last time out, yielding four hits over eight scoreless innings in Oakland’s 2-0, 12-inning win over Baltimore on Tuesday. He has won three of his last four decisions, allowing three earned runs or fewer in four of his last five starts.
After a 10-game winning streak vaulted them past Seattle in the AL West, the A’s have dropped three of four, including Saturday’s 7-4 defeat to Tampa Bay.
“It’s coming down to the end and we’ve got to continue to focus, play hard and we’ve got make sure we get the good pitching,” said Oakland manager Ken Macha.
Despite the loss, the A’s remained two games in front of the Mariners in the division. Seattle suffered a 3-1 loss to Baltimore on Saturday.
“We’ve been talking about putting up runs against this team and we did,” Tampa Bay manager Lou Piniella said.
The Devil Rays had managed just 13 runs in losing six straight to the A’s.
Tampa Bay surpassed its victory total from last season with Saturday’s win.
STANDINGS: Athletics - 1st place, AL West. Devil Rays - 5th place, 28 GB, AL East.
ATHLETICS PROBABLE STARTER: Zito (11-11, 3.20 ERA). Zito is 4-1 with a 2.55 ERA in five career starts against the Devil Rays.
DEVIL RAYS PROBABLE STARTER: Victor Zambrano (9-8, 4.30 ERA). The right-hander is winless in five starts. He allowed two runs and four hits over six solid innings Tuesday, but the Rays’ bullpen was overwhelmed in a 10-8 loss to the Mariners. Zambrano is making his first career start against the A’s. He is 0-1 with a 7.36 ERA in six career relief appearances against Oakland.
OFFENSIVE LEADERS: Athletics - Eric Chavez, .280 avg. and 25 HRs; Miguel Tejada, 89 RBIs and 86 runs; Tejada and Eric Byrnes, 9 SBs. Devil Rays - Huff, .315 avg., 28 HRs and 92 RBIs; Rocco Baldelli, 77 runs; Crawford, 47 SBs.
SEASON SERIES: Athletics, 6-2.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Athletics - Sunday’s game marks the last time the A’s play a non-AL West opponent the rest of the year. … LHP Zito’s 4-2 record in April marked the only month in which he’s posted a winning record thus far this season. … 3B Chavez is hitting .318 against right-handers this season. Devil Rays - RHP Lance Carter has 23 saves in 29 chances. … OF Crawford’s 47 stolen bases lead the AL. … Right-handed batters are hitting just .192 against RHP Zambrano this season.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Athletics - 34-37 on the road; Devil Rays - 32-39 at home.
INJURIES: Athletics - LHP Micah Bowie (elbow), 15-day DL; LHP Mark Mulder (hip), 15-day DL. Devil Rays - SS Rey Ordonez (knee), 15-day DL; OF Ben Grieve (blood clot), 60-day DL; RHP Seth McClung (elbow), 60-day DL.