CC Sabathia, Carlos Zambrano give up five homers apiece

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With the 2011 scheduled nearly three-quarters completed, just one pitcher had given up five homers in a game, that being the long-since demoted Sean O’Sullivan of the Royals on May 28 against the Rangers.

On Friday night, it happened twice more to two of the game’s highest-paid pitchers.   The Yankees’ CC Sabathia gave up five solo homers — and no other runs — over eight innings in a loss to the Rays, and the Cubs’ Carlos Zambrano also surrendered five homers while allowing eight runs in 4 1/3 innings against the Braves.

After giving up back-to-back homers in the fifth, Zambrano was tossed for throwing at Chipper Jones.

Sabathia, a Cy Young contender trying to become the year’s second 17-game winner, surrendered homers to Casey Kotchman, Kelly Shoppach, Johnny Damon, Elliot Johnson and Evan Longoria.  He had never before allowed more than three homers in a start, and he had given up a total of eight homers in 25 starts this season.

Zambrano, who had turned in four straight quality starts, saw his ERA jump to 4.82 with the showing.  Dan Uggla, riding a 31-game hitting streak, took him deep twice.  Zambrano has allowed 19 homers in 145 2/3 innings this year, two more than he gave up in 299 innings between 2009 and ’10.

It was the first time either the Rays or the Braves had hit five homers in a game this season.

Sabathia became the first Yankees pitcher to give up five homers since David Wells on July 4, 2003 against the Red Sox.  Five Yankees pitchers had done it previously.

Zambrano, meanwhile, was the fourth Cubs pitcher to pull off the feat.  It was done previously by Ismael Valdez on June 11, 2000 against the White Sox.

Evan Longoria: ‘I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base’

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The Rays were busy over the weekend, trading starter Jake Odorizzi to the Twins, designating All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, and then picking up C.J. Cron in a deal with the Angels. The Rays saved about $4 million — Odorizzi’s $6.3 million less Cron’s $2.3 million salary — and picked up a prospect. They’re still on the hook for Dickerson’s $5.95 million salary until they can find a trade partner, which seems likely.

Those are some head-scratching moves if you’re a Rays fan or a member of the Rays. Dickerson hit .282/.325/.490 with 27 home runs, 62 RBI, and 84 runs scored in 629 plate appearances last season, part of which resulted in his first trip to the All-Star Game. Designating him for assignment is strictly a financial move, assuming he can be traded. The Rays are currently operating with a payroll below $70 million. This comes just a week and a half after Rays ownership proposed the public footing most of the bill for the club’s new stadium. And the Rays had traded third baseman Evan Longoria — then the face of the franchise — to the Giants earlier this offseason.

Longoria expressed sympathy for Rays fans for having to put up with this. Via Andrew Baggarly, Longoria said of the curious Dickerson move, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base. … I’m not going to take too many shots but it’s pretty obvious that guy is a valuable player and didn’t deserve to be DFAd. Corey was our best player last year.”

Longoria isn’t quite on the money there. By WAR, Dickerson ranked fifth among position players on the team, according to Baseball Reference. FanGraphs is also in agreement. Still, it’s indisputable that Dickerson, who turns 29 years old this May, more than pulled his weight. The Rays do not have a surfeit of starting outfielders, so it wasn’t like they were making room for other capable players. Mallex Smith, who put up a .684 OPS in 282 PA last year, is slated to start in left field at the moment. Designating Dickerson for assignment, as well as trading Longoria and Odorizzi, were simply cost-cutting decisions.

The Rays’ M.O. has been part of the problem leading to the current stagnant free agent market (sans Eric Hosmer‘s eight-year deal on Saturday). Teams like the Rays, Phillies, Reds, and Tigers have been explicitly putting out non-competitive teams in order to facilitate a rebuilding process. Longoria is right to express sympathy for Rays fans, who see their favorite team worsening a roster that went 80-82 last year. The Rays haven’t finished at .500 or above since 2013 and doesn’t figure to halt the streak this year.