Jeff Niemann pitched 6 2/3 dominant innings and the Tampa Bay Rays scored all of their runs in the second inning as the Rays shut out the Seattle Mariners 8-0 to open a three-game series.
"Niemann 2.0" allowed just three hits and struck out 11 Mariners, topping his previous career high set on July 17. He used his new looping curveball to torture the weak Seattle lineup -- Niemann threw 33 of them in all and got six swinging strikes with the curve. Tonight's effort was the capper to an excellent month by the Big Q. During July, all five of his starts were quality starts, he struck out 34 batters, and he allowed only four earned runs with a 1.10 WHIP and an impressive 2.76 FIP.
A day after blowing up for seven runs in one inning against the Athletics, the Rays binged again in the second inning off Erik Bedard and Aaron Laffey. Casey Kotchman led off with a single, and after Kelly Shoppach struck out, Bedard issued three straight walks to Matt Joyce, Sean Rodriguez, and Desmond Jennings to force in a run. Johnny Damon followed with a two-run single, and Bedard's first start since returning from the disabled list ended after only 1 1/3 innings.
Things didn't get any better when Laffey entered the game. He balked Jennings and Damon into scoring position, and Jennings scored on a groundout by Evan Longoria. Then Ben Zobrist, batting from the right side, took a 2-1 pitch and launched it to right-center for an opposite-field, two-run homer that increased Tampa Bay's lead to 6-0. But the inning still wasn't over. B.J. Upton (who is still a member of the Rays as of 1:45 AM Eastern Daylight Time on Saturday, July 30) drew a walk, and Kotchman's second hit of the inning, a double to right field, brought in the Rays' seventh run. Shoppach followed with a single to plate Kotchman before Joyce's strikeout finally ended the biggest offensive inning of the year.
J.P. Howell came in and chilled the seventh inning after Niemann left two runners on base, and Brandon Gomes pitched two perfect innings to finish off the game.
The Rays and Mariners will be back in action Saturday afternoon at 4:00 from Safeco Field. Look for the game as part of FOX's regional coverage.