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Jeff Niemann Makes His Season Debut In Detroit

No. 5 pitcher Jeff Niemann takes the mound in his season debut against the Detroit Tigers (4-1).

The Rays (4-1) offense has come alive this year. Barely a week into the season, the Rays are 3rd in on base percentage and 4th in batting average. Tampa Bay swept the Yankees by a margin of 3 runs in each game, and then ran Justin Verlander off the field yesterday in the ninth inning.

Pitching for Detroit in his professional debut: Drew Smyly. In 2011, he split the year between A+ and AA with a 2.07 ERA in 22 games. In the low minors he allowed 7.4 hits and 2.6 walks per nine innings of work, along with 9.3 strikeouts per nine. He made one AAA appearance before today's start, allowing 3 hits and 3 runs in 1.2 innings.

The Rays lineup:

Jennings CF
Pena 1B
Longoria 3B
Keppinger DH
Zobrist RF
Rodriguez SS
Lobaton C
Johnson 2B
Joyce LF

Jeff Keppinger and Elliot Johnson get starting nods today after both players pushed the Rays to victory in appearances of the bench yesterday. Back up catcher Jose Lobaton will also return after earning two walks.

The Rays have slotted Matt Joyce in the nine hole, which I personally prefer to see him in. His speed is a top tool, though he seldom uses it on the pads in terms of stealing bases (or as my dad likes to call them, easy outs). With the top of the order following in the line up, we could see him notch a few runs today.

Yesterday the Rays saw Fernando Rodney save his third game of the season, and having thrown a mere 35 pitches this season, he's starting to turn heads. It's unlikely we see him today with Joel Peralta well rested, as the Rays have a four game series in Boston starting Friday.

Niemann was leapfrogged yesterday to give James Shields a chance to square off against Justin Verlander, and set the Rays up for their top four pitchers to make their starts in Fenway Park.

Game Time: 1:05 PM, Comerica Park
Pitchers: Jeff Niemann Vs. Drew Smyly
Broadcast: Sun Sports, 620 WDAE

For more Rays news and analysis, check out our Rays affiliate DRaysBay. Today, staff writer Jason Collette looked at how the Rays have altered Fernando Rodney's approach to turn him into the dominant reliever he never was before.

Photographs by, thelastminute, turtlemom nancy , fesek, kthypryn, justinwright, sue_elias, pointnshoot, and scrapstothefuture used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.