Finally, pitching and offense come together for the Rays in one night as they put up seven runs on nine hits, and got a five-hit performance out of the pitching staff. The middle of the order continues to mash and Jeff Niemann remains fairly consistent (more so then a few of the other starters). Let’s see how it breaks down.
What Went Right:
Niemann ran into trouble in three of the first four innings as he allowed two runners to reach with one out. In the first, he got a pair of fly outs to get of it. In the third, he used a pair of strikeouts and in the fourth, a sharp liner to Akinori Iwamura turned into a double-play ball. Great job to work out of trouble, although he was unable to finish his final inning again as he couldn’t get out of the sixth. After retiring the first two hitters, Joe Crede went deep and Niemann followed by walking Michael Cuddyer. Niemann finished with 90 pitches, only 50 for strikes. He made the pitches when he needed to and even though it wasn’t pretty, he got the job done and kept the Rays in a position to win; which is all you can ask for out of a fifth starter.
On the subject of pitching, the bullpen looked great tonight going 3.1IP, 2H, 0R, 5K. The two hits were given up by Grant Balfour but the first one bounced just in front of Carl Crawford and the second could have been a possible double-play ball had Aki not let it scoot away.
What a great asset Joe Nelson can be, a righty that can get lefties out and do it well. Nelson came in and faced four hitters, all lefties, and retired all of them. It’s due to that “Vulcan” change grip that Dwayne Staats is infatuated with.
How about Dan Wheeler coming out of the pen and throwing a few at 92mph? A well rested Wheel man looked good getting his two men out. He was followed by J.P. Howell who had the game been closer, I would have felt comfortable with throwing in the ninth. Hmm.
The Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena show was all the Rays needed as they combined to hit the cycle while driving in four runs, and scoring four more.
Jason Bartlett keeps his place as the leading hitter (although Longo tied him tonight at .371) after going 2-4 with his third homer of the year.
What Went Wrong:
B.J. Upton finally broke his hitless streak, only to get picked off first. He still needs to get a clue offensively, and it might not be a bad idea to drop him down the order while he still works out the kinks.
Once again the Rays open a series with a bang. They pummeled the Mariners and Athletics in the first game, only to lose the next two. Let’s see if they can break that trend and start putting some wins together. They have a good chance as they send out James Shields (2-2), fresh off his eight inning gem in Seattle, to face a struggling Francisco Liriano (0-4).