Rays pitcher shuts down Minnesota batting order
By La Velle E. Neal III
MINNEAPOLIS — When you think Tampa Bay Rays pitchers, you likely think Scott Kazmir, Matt Garza, James Shields — even David Price. But Price, baseball’s next big thing on the mound, is in the minors while righthander Jeff Niemann pitches in the Rays rotation.
Niemann is out of options. Price isn’t. So the belief is that the better pitcher didn’t break camp with the defending American League champions.
Don’t make that assertion to Twins hitters, who couldn’t hit Niemann during their 7-1 loss on Monday.
Niemann wasn’t overpowering, but the Twins didn’t square up many pitches from the former Rice star. Meanwhile, the Rays scored two in the first and two in the fifth to hand the Twins their second loss in a row.
The Twins had Niemann on the ropes three times, getting two runners on with one out—but came up empty each time.
Alexi Casilla drew a one-out walk in the first and Justin Morneau was hit by a pitch. But Jason Kubel flied out to center and Joe Crede flied out to right to end the inning.
Denard Span singled to right with one out in the third, followed by a Casilla walk. But Niemann got Morneau and Kubel to chase pitches out of the strike zone for strikeouts.
Michael Cuddyer drew a one-out walk in the fourth and Delmon Young followed with a single to center. Jose Morales followed with a screamer — but right at second baseman Akinori Iwamura, who started an inning-ending double play.
Niemann held the Twins to one run over 52⁄3 innings on three hits, four walks and four strikeouts.
The Twins were thrown into a pattern in which they never got out of, going 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position. Twins righthander Scott Baker fell to 0-3 despite turning a corner from his homer-intensive previous outings.
He got the ball down and finished off hitters with his curveball. It didn’t matter if the adjustment was mechanical or mental, just that the adjustment was finally made.
He gave up three consecutive two-out hits in the first inning to fall behind 2-0 before Baker straightened up and retired 10 consecutive hitters.
When he got Carl Crawford to fly out in the third, Baker had gone 10 batters without giving up a homer—his longest homerless stretch of his three starts.