ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP)—After two so-so starts, Esteban Loaiza put on a show for White Sox rookie manager Ozzie Guillen.
Last year’s AL Cy Young Award runnerup pitched a two-hitter to remain perfect in April over the past two seasons, and Chicago beat the Tampa Bay Devil Rays 5-0 Sunday to match its best start in 12 years.
“That was the Loaiza I was waiting for for a little while,” Guillen said. “I’m glad he came out and commanded the ball, threw strikes and picked his spots. At this level, you’ve got to throw strikes no matter how good you are. That’s what he did.”
Loaiza (3-0) beat Kansas City twice in the first eight days of the season but had a 6.00 ERA before Sunday and allowed four homers in his second start. He didn’t come anywhere close to getting himself in trouble Sunday while lowering his ERA to 3.43.
The right-hander allowed a one-out single in the fifth to Tino Martinez and a one-out single in the seventh to Aubrey Huff, who stopped an 0-for-14 slump. The only Tampa Bay runner to get past first was Carl Crawford, who walked and stole second in fourth.
“Everything was great. Now I’ve just got to maintain myself and do the same thing I did today,” Loaiza said. “It was my best start in a while. … I had two OK starts and got my first two wins. Now I have my third win.”
Loaiza walked one and struck out five, needing just 2 hours, 12 minutes for his fifth career shutout and 11th complete game. He had one complete game a year ago, a 1-0 loss at Detroit on July 10.
He has won his last nine April starts, going 5-0 a year ago when he went on to finish 21-9 with 2.90 ERA.
“He made it look easy,” Tampa Bay manager Lou Piniella said. “That, plus our guys are not swinging the bats very well. That’s a bad combination.”
After winning the opener of the three-game series 3-0, the Devil Rays were limited to one run and eight hits—all singles—in losses Saturday night and Sunday. They have scored five runs in their last four games, and the only run they scored in the last 24 innings was unearned.
“I felt bad for a few of our hitters. I really did,” Piniella said. “Loaiza is a good pitcher. But boy, we weren’t very aggressive up there. … Waving and feeling for it isn’t going to get it done. Guys are struggling, but you’ve got to keep your confidence and take a pass at the ball.”
Loaiza is 13-2 in his last 17 April starts and hasn’t lost during the opening month of the season since April 22, 2001, at Kansas City when he was pitching for Toronto.
Valentin led off the third inning with his third home run and Konerko hit his second, leading off the fourth against Jeremi Gonzalez (0-3).
Eight of Chicago’s 10 hits off the Devil Rays starter were for extra bases, and Thomas’ RBI single would have been a double if the big designated hitter hadn’t been thrown out at second when he arrived at the bag holding his right hamstring.
Thomas is day to day, as is Valentin, who aggravated a tender left hamstring that kept him out of Friday night’s game.
“I think he’s going to be all right,” Guillen said of Thomas, who injured himself just after making the turn at first base.
Gonzalez lost his ninth straight decision dating to August. The Devil Rays have been outscored 28-4 in his three starts this year, and he has allowed 16 runs, 23 hits, seven walks, five homers and thrown three wild pitches in 15 1-3 innings.
His next appearance may be out of the bullpen.
“He’s lost nine in a row,” Piniella said. “Maybe it’s time to givesomebody else an opportunity.”
The Devil Rays lost consecutive games for the first time. They were the first team since the 1997 Yankees to go through the first 10 games of the season without winning or losing two straight. … Thomas walked in the first inning, becoming the 23rd player in major league history to walk 1,400 times. He’s walked 10 times in his last six games and trails Henry Aaron by two on the career list. … The Devil Rays only have 23 extra-base hits this season,fewest in the AL.