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Zambrano a hit again in game

MARC TOPKIN
Published March 2, 2004

ST. PETERSBURG - The smart-aleck assessment of the Devil Rays' first spring intrasquad game Monday was that opening-day starter Victor Zambrano was in midseason form: He hit the first batter then struck out the next two.

Zambrano, who led the AL last season with 20 hit batters, labored a bit during his two innings and committed a balk. But he allowed only one hit and one run and finished with four strikeouts and one walk.

"Maybe people laugh because of what happened last year, but I don't think anything (of it) and I'm not going to change anything," Zambrano said. "I'm just going to work on my pitches and work on my location. I'm going to continue to pitch inside. I think that's part of my game."

Pitching coach Chuck Hernandez said he was pleased with Zambrano's outing. "I thought it was a good day," Hernandez said. "I thought his stuff was real good. He was a little rusty like everybody."

The six-inning game was a welcome change of routine, especially for pitchers and catchers who have been working out since Feb.15. Double-A manager Charlie Montoyo's Biscuits beat Triple-A manager Bill Evers' Bulls 2-1.

Pete LaForest's sixth-inning double off Carlos Hines scored Anton French with the winning run. French drew a leadoff walk, stole second and went to third after catcher Mitch Meluskey's throw bounced into centerfield.

"It was awesome," said LaForest, who was 2-for-3. "I'll take that every day."

Among other highlights:

Brook Fordyce drove in the Biscuits' first run with a fourth-inning sacrifice fly.

Edwards Guzman had a run-scoring single for the Bulls.

Damian Moss got three outs on six pitches.

Veteran relievers Mike Williams and Mike Holtz threw well enough to catch Hernandez's eye.

Robert Fick made two running catches in rightfield.

Minor-league catcher Dan Massiatte threw out speedy Joey Gathright trying to steal second.

"It was just good to get started," GM Chuck LaMar said. "The two things you concentrate on are pitchers throwing strikes and people catching the ball in the field, and we did both of those."

NEXT UP: A few more veterans are likely to be on the field for today's 9:30 a.m. seven-inning intra-squad game. Jeremi Gonzalez and Doug Waechter are the scheduled starting pitchers, with Dewon Brazelton, Trever Miller, Chad Gaudin, Lance Carter, Travis Harper and Ken Cloude among others expected to pitch.

SIGNING DAY: Starters Rocco Baldelli, Toby Hall and Zambrano will have their contracts renewed and a $20,000 incentive bonus package eliminated if they haven't agreed to terms by this morning.

They don't have much bargaining power since the Rays have a rigid salary structure for players with less than three years' experience: Baldelli won't get more than $320,000; Hall and Zambrano won't get more than $330,000. Carl Crawford avoided renewal by agreeing to terms Monday.

SMALL BIG STEP: Pitcher Seth McClung will be cautious today when he throws off the mound for the first time since Tommy John elbow surgery in June.

McClung is on schedule to make rehab starts in June and return to the big leagues in July. Hernandez joked he'd have to tackle McClung to keep him from going too hard, but McClung said he is in no hurry to accelerate the timetable because he is concerned about additional injury.

"If they push me a little harder, that's fine, but I want it to be pretty close to a year," said McClung, who agreed to terms Monday. "They say after 12 months you really start seeing some significant progress. I just want this done once. ... It's frustrating enough to be hurt. I don't want to go through it again."

MISCELLANY: Manager Lou Piniella missed the workout for personal reasons. ... The Rays will be off Thursday as camp shifts from the Naimoli complex to Progress Energy Park.

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