6/4 Big Z's night

Carlos Zambrano gave up three runs on six hits and three walks over 4 1/3 innings while striking out three Friday in his first start since April 20. He was pulled after 84 pitches.

Thirty-four of those pitches came in the Astros first. Michael Bourn singled and scored one out later on Lance Berkman’s single. Berkman tried to stretch his hit and was caught in a 7-4-3-4-1 rundown. Carlos Lee doubled and Zambrano walked the next two batters to load the bases before Pedro Feliz flew out. Of his total pitches that inning, 15 were for strikes, and his fastball was around 90 mph.

Bourn singled with one out in the Houston fifth for his third hit, stole second, and scored on Jeff Keppinger’s single. Zambrano then exited, and Tom Gorzelanny entered, his first relief appearance since trading places with Zambrano. Berkman doubled off the lefty’s first pitch to drive in Keppinger and make it 3-1.

“I felt good today,” Zambrano said. “The most important thing was my fastball was good today, my sinker was good today. That’s the important thing for me.”

“He’s been tough on us,” Berkman said of Zambrano. “I don’t care what his record is against the rest of the league, but against us he’s the best pitcher alive. So he was tough again tonight. I don’t know why he was in the bullpen, but I didn’t notice any difference in the way he was throwing the ball. He looked really good.”

Zambrano admitted to feeling a little rushed in the first inning and pitching coach Larry Rothschild tried to get him to slow down. Zambrano was more efficient in the second, third and fourth innings.

“My last outing as a reliever was against St. Louis last Saturday,” Zambrano said. “It’s a little tough to be consistent with the strike zone [after a layoff]. … Not even [Carlos] Silva, who is a strike machine, or Greg Maddux. If Maddux went to the bullpen and tried to pitch in seven, eight days, I think he would have some location problems.”

— Carrie Muskat

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