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TB@MIA: Big Z exits early with back stiffness

Less than one week after the Rays swept the Marlins in Miami, the two teams will renew their in-state Interleague rivalry about 300 miles up the road at Tropicana Field on Friday night.

Last weekend, the Rays took three games from the Marlins by a combined 15 runs, including a 13-4 blowout in which Tampa Bay scored five runs in the second inning and never looked back.

For Miami, the series sweep wasn't due to a lack of chances, as the Marlins went 2-for-30 with runners in scoring position. Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen said that wasn't the only reason his team found little success against the Rays, but it definitely was a major factor.

"They did everything better than we did all weekend," Guillen said. "They played good, they executed, they pitched well. They got big hits -- huge hits -- and we didn't. ... We were very flat at the plate all weekend."

Tampa Bay enters the weekend having beat Miami the last seven times the two clubs have met, including two sweeps, dating back to last May.

On the mound, Friday's game will be a rematch of the second game of the last series. Left-hander Matt Moore threw six scoreless innings last Saturday against the Marlins before giving up four runs in the seventh inning. It didn't matter, though, as the Rays' offense had already put nine runs on the board by that point.

Seven of those runs came at the expense of Miami starter Carlos Zambrano, who pitched just 2 1/3 innings because of stiffness in his back, which he felt when he woke up the day of the game. Guillen said it was nothing serious, and he expects Zambrano to be fine come Friday. Both teams are scuffling: the Rays were just swept by the Mets in a three-game series, and the Marlins have lost eight of nine, including two of three to the Red Sox in their most recent series. The Marlins had an off-day Thursday, while the Rays fell to the Mets, 9-6.

Marlins: Ruggiano returns to Tropicana Field
Outfielder and former Rays player Justin Ruggiano will be making a homecoming of sorts on Friday, returning to St. Petersburg for the first time as a Marlin.

Ruggiano spent parts of 2007-08 and '11 with Tampa Bay, playing a total of 98 games. The Rays called him up on May 20 last season, and his first game came against the Marlins.

The 30-year-old was a free agent this offseason before eventually signing with the Astros. On May 26, Miami acquired Ruggiano in a Minor League deal and promptly picked up his contract the next day.

Speaking fondly of his former team, Ruggiano called Tampa Bay a "great organization" and is an advocate of the Rays getting a new stadium.

Rays: Zobrist strong in return
• Ben Zobrist returned to the Rays lineup Thursday and went 2-for-4 with a walk, double, RBI and strikeout. He missed Tuesday's game because of soreness in his hand after being hit by a ball Sunday and was not in the lineup Wednesday because of illness.

• Rays third-base coach Tom Foley missed Thursday's game because of a personal matter. He's due back Friday.

• Sean Rodriguez, Alex Cobb and Sam Fuld will attend the Third Annual Lunch with the Rays Fundraiser at the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Suncoast in Pinellas Park, Fla., on Friday.

Worth noting
• Following Thursday's 9-6 loss to the Mets, the Rays are 4-5 in Interleague Play and 1-5 at home. Their only road Interleague series was last weekend's sweep of the Marlins.

• Marlins shortstop Jose Reyes led off the bottom of the first inning on Wednesday night with a triple for the second game in a row. The last player to hit leadoff triples in back-to-back games was Reyes himself, who did it on June 21-22, 2008. His 15 leadoff triples tie him with Seattle's Ichiro Suzuki for the lead among active players, and he has 12 total triples in Interleague Play. Comments