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Just another game for tonight's starter

By TOM JONES, MARC TOPKIN
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 2, 2003

ST. PETERSBURG -- The biggest challenge facing Devil Rays pitcher Jim Parque tonight -- well, other than facing the mighty Boston lineup -- could be staying awake.

The No. 3 starter is so laid-back he should have a recliner in front of his locker instead of a folding chair. So, when he takes the mound tonight for his first start of the season, he won't worry about his heartbeat popping the buttons off his shirt.

"I wouldn't say I'm pumped up," Parque said. "Just another game."

That would be hard to believe coming from most pitchers in Parque's situation. This is a guy who spent most of last season trying to find his groove after shoulder surgery halfway through the 2001 season. After three full seasons in the majors with the White Sox, Parque labored most of last season in Triple-A Charlotte and made only four starts and eight appearances in the big leagues.

So what?

Maybe he is making a comeback of sorts, but Parque wasn't doing any back flips Tuesday.

"The key to this game is keeping it even keel," Parque said. "I just want to go out there and hopefully start a run of wins. Just keep it at the same level every start. That's how I look at it."

At least the lefty has a little strut in his step after a sound spring when, a) his shoulder felt fine, and b) he got hitters out.

"I'll try to carry it over to the regular season," Parque said. "My last two starts in spring training I was really working for the (regular) season. And hopefully, it will carry over now. There's no reason, really, to treat the season any differently than spring training."

Meaning he wasn't losing any sleep Tuesday night.

GIMME MORE TIME: This isn't necessarily Pedro Martinez's last season with the Red Sox.

In February, Boston's ace said that unless the Red Sox exercised his $17.5-million option for 2004 or signed him to an extension by the end of the spring, he likely would finish his career elsewhere.

Martinez wasn't signed before Monday's game against the Rays, but he has given the team an extension and said talks are ongoing.

OH-NO ZAMBRANO: The Rays have some reverse karma going here. Opening-day starter Joe Kennedy had an awful spring then pitched well Monday in the victory against the Red Sox.

Second-day starter Victor Zambrano pitched great in the spring, but struggled in his season debut Tuesday.

One statistic reflects his reversal of fortune. He allowed five runs in spring training. He allowed six in just 42/3 innings Tuesday.

Zambrano lost the pinpoint control he had in the spring, when he walked three in 22 innings. He walked four Tuesday, and could not get out of the fifth after giving up six hits.

His final pitch led to a two-run homer by Jeremy Giambi that gave the Red Sox a 6-2 lead.

"He got behind too many hitters and threw too many pitches," Rays manager Lou Piniella said.

HELP WANTED?: Infielder Damion Easley is one of several veterans who are expected to clear waivers today and be available for the $300,000 minimum.

Easley, released by Detroit last week with two years and $14.3-million remaining on his contract, could be one of the most appealing to the Rays, who might be tempted to try him at second base. Agent Paul Cohen declined to discuss which teams he expected to hear from.

Other players who may be available include infielder Quilvio Veras and pitchers Shane Reynolds and Jesus Sanchez.

The Rays should also find out in the next day or two whether Rule 5 infielder Hector Luna and outfielder George Lombard have cleared waivers. Lombard could be sent to Triple-A; Luna would first have to be offered back to Cleveland.

MY ACHING FOOT: Ben Grieve did not start Tuesday because of a sore right foot suffered Monday's when he fouled a pitch off of it. And ...

"And," Piniella said, "he's 3-for-26 against (Boston starter Tim Wakefield)."

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