BALTIMORE — Forget what you read in Saturday's paper (or, of course, online) because Jeff Niemann was anything but relaxed or more comfortable at the beginning of his third major-league start.
The 26-year-old right-hander gave up a double to the first batter, allowed an uncontested stolen base before hitting the second, gave up another double that scored a run to the third and walked the fourth on five pitches.
And then Niemann really soiled the cold Saturday night as — two pitches after manager Joe Maddon went to mound to calm him — he hung an 0-and-1 slider that Melvin Mora crushed over the left-centerfield fence for a grand slam, putting the Rays five runs down in what ended up a 6-0 loss.
"It was a big start for him, and he was amped up a bit," Maddon said.
"It was a little bit of everything happening at once," Niemann said.
The snarky thing to write would be that the only good thing about the night for Niemann was it was over.
But after falling behind 5-0, he actually did settle down and look more like the pitcher who won the No. 5 spot in the rotation, allowing the Rays to trade Jason Hammel following the decision to send prospect David Price back to Triple A for additional development.
In the first inning, Niemann faced nine batters and six reached base — four hits, a walk and a hit batter. From the second until leaving in the sixth, he faced 18 batters and only five reached — two singles and three walks (including his last two batters) — and retired nine straight at one point, keeping the ball down as he needs to.
"The first inning was a little bit rough, but I thought he pitched very well after that," Maddon said. "I was impressed. I just think that he settled down. I just think he got into the flow of the game, got his feet on the ground and felt better about himself; those kinds of things."
Niemann salvaged some confidence, and he saved the bullpen, which would have been taxed — "for several days" — to cover extended innings after long man Lance Cormier worked 21/3 innings Friday.
"There's an ugly side to this and a good side," Niemann said.
That pretty much sums up the offense, which continued to be an all-or-nothing proposition against Orioles ace Jeremy Guthrie and three relievers in being shut out for the first time.
The Rays went 0-for-11 with runners in scoring position, left nine men on and struck out six more times, pushing their five-game total to a somewhat concerning 42. They've scored 18 runs, and 11 have come on home runs.
And while a few Rays are off to good starts and Evan Longoria a great one (.455, four homers, eight RBIs), Pat Burrell is hitting .125 without an extra-base hit or RBI, Dioner Navarro .188, Matt Joyce .100 and Gabe Gross .111.
"We've got to start scoring runs other than just the home run," Maddon said. "We have guys out there. We have to get the base hit. We have to get the run with the out. We keep talking about it's going to happen. Just right now, we're just not doing it."
"That might be a little bit right. We haven't really strung together a group of hits," Longoria said. "I think once we get that going, we'll be all right. But we have been lately just kind of quick-strike — base hit-home run or base hit-base hit-home run and that's the end of it."
Marc Topkin can be reached at email@example.com.