He’s already started to get more playing time than he had expected, as well.
Acquired Friday in a waiver-wire deal from the Baltimore Orioles for a player to be named later, Wednesday was the first game Zaun did not play in since joining the team on Saturday. He started in three of those first four games and, all told, has gone four for 13 with a run, including a two-hit effort on Tuesday against the Angels.
“Surprised, I was surprised,” he said of the immediate playing time. “I had really no idea what kind of role I was gonna play here.”
With Baltimore, he had his fair share of starts at the season’s onset — 33 of the season’s first 48 — but everyone, including Zaun, realized it was temporary until ballyhooed prospect Matt Wieters was called up.
Eventually, though, Zaun, 38, said he got comfortable with his role as a teacher and a part-time starter.
“I made peace with it,” said Zaun, a switch-hitter who’s played in 1,174 career games and tallied a .250 career average with 82 home runs, 418 RBIs and 417 runs.
And when he got chances to play, he made the most of them.
He batted .320 (17 for 53) with nine runs batted in and three home runs in his 19 games played since Wieters joined the O’s.
“That’s nice, cause I got off to a slow start,” said Zaun, who’s hitting .249 on the season, but has a .352 on-base percentage — second among American League catchers.
And, for the season, Baltimore was 25-24 with him starting and 20-39 in those games that he did not.
Now, it looks as if he’ll likely split time with Dioner Navarro, a former All-Star, who started on Wednesday against Crescenta Valley High graduate Trevor Bell, who was making his debut.
But more than that, he also finds himself on a contender, as the Rays, the reigning American League champions, are 61-53, 10 games out in the AL East Division and five games behind the Boston Red Sox in the AL wild-card race.
“It’s a nice opportunity to come here and contribute to a team that’s still in the hunt,” said Zaun, who won a World Series with the Florida Marlins in 1997.
But after the Rays lost their fourth straight game on Wednesday, it was clear how quickly the veteran can adjust with a team-first mantra and sense of humor to boot.
“I don’t like the losing,” he said, “I feel like bad luck.”