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Rays thriving against contenders

Rays thriving against contenders

ST. PETERSBURG -- The first Cubs game at Tropicana Field, with former Rays manager Lou Piniella at the helm in the visitors' dugout, held a sliver of history.

But there is still more.

Wednesday's starters will both be making their respective debuts against each team and against nearly every batter. Carl Crawford is the lone Ray to have faced Carlos Zambrano, while not a single member of the Cubs' squad has taken swings vs. Andy Sonnanstine.

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And even that one-at bat -- during the 2004 All Star game -- is one that Crawford would rather forget.

"He struck me out," Crawford recalled. "My heart was beating so fast that I don't think I saw any pitches. He must have been feeling the same way, because every pitch was over my head, and I swung. ... He didn't throw me one pitch in the strike zone."

The Rays' left fielder returns to the squad on Wednesday, fresh off a four-game suspension. With the addition of Crawford, the Rays will be running close to full throttle for the remainder of the three-game set vs. Chicago.

Akinori Iwamura, the lone position player yet to serve his suspension (for involvement in the June 5 fracas vs. the Red Sox) is appealing his three-game punishment and remains eligible to play until his plea is heard.

That's good news for Sonnanstine, who enters Wednesday with a 2-0 record in Interleague games this season and looking to extend his team-leading seven wins.

The 25-year-old is coming off a June 11 win, where he battled through 5 1/3 innings against the Marlins.

Although he has never faced the National League-leading Cubs, Sonnanstine and the Rays are no strangers to facing baseball's best. The Rays have faced division winners in four of their past six series, with Texas being their lone opponent under .500 in the Rays' past 29 games.

"Whenever you are playing a good team, we raise our level of play," Sonnanstine said. "It's been tough, [but] we've played a lot of good teams and we've done well. So that helps our confidence, too. I think it's a good thing."

Never was that confidence on display more than in Tuesday night's thrilling 3-2 win, in which the Rays clung to an early lead in front of a crowd of 31,607.

"It may have exceeded anything that I've witnessed here," manager Joe Maddon said of the atmosphere at Tropicana Field. "It was electric."

The Rays will look to Sonnanstine to continue their impressive play at home, as the crafty right-hander will get the ball with a shot to secure a series victory.

Known for his competitive drive, Sonnanstine says he has employed the tutelage of veterans like Troy Percival and has logged time watching video of the Cubs batters in an effort to "get as prepared as possible."

Pitching matchup
TB: RHP Andy Sonnanstine (7-3, 4.89 ERA)
Sonnanstine picked up his seventh win of the season Friday night against the Marlins after allowing three runs on six hits in 5 1/3 innings worked. The right-hander is a master of deception, employing an array of pitches that he can throw from all different angles, and has learned to primarily use his fastball to set up the other pitches. Sonnanstine will be making his first career start against the Cubs.

CHC: RHP Carlos Zambrano (8-2, 2.98 ERA)
Zambrano did not get a decision in his last start against the Braves, and no coolers were injured, either. The right-hander gave up two runs on eight hits and three walks over seven-plus innings, striking out three as the Cubs rallied to win. He has never faced the Rays.

Tidbits
Rocco Baldelli began a rehabilitation assignment Monday night at Class A Vero Beach, going 1-for-3 with two RBIs and two walks as the team's designated hitter. Sidelined since Spring Training with a mitochondrial disorder, Baldelli will DH again Wednesday and Friday before being re-evaluated. ... Carlos Pena has progressed to taking soft-toss swings, and is also fielding -- but not throwing -- during his rehab sessions for a left finger fracture. The first baseman is eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list on Thursday. ... Evan Longoria's solo homer on Tuesday night snapped an 0-for-14 streak. ... Tuesday night's save was Percival's 16th save this season, and career No. 340. He is now one save behind Rollie Fingers, who is ninth on the all-time saves list with 341. ... Reliever Grant Balfour has stranded nine of 11 inherited runners this season.

Tickets
 Buy tickets now to catch the game in person.

On the Internet
 MLB.TV
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television
• ION-HD, ESPN

On radio
• WHNZ 1250, WGES 680 (Español)

Up next
• Thursday: Rays (James Shields, 4-5, 3.91) vs. Cubs (Sean Gallagher, 3-3, 4.54), 7:10 p.m. ET
• Friday: Rays (Matt Garza, 5-3, 4.06) vs. Astros (Wandy Rodriguez, 2-3, 2.76), 7:10 p.m. ET
• Saturday: Rays (Jason Hammel, 3-2, 4.87) vs. Astros (TBD), 6:10 p.m. ET

Brittany Ghiroli is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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