Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Jeff Niemann dominates to win 10th as Tampa Bay Rays improve to 8-0 against Royals

ST. PETERSBURG — Rookie right-hander Jeff Niemann can laugh about the "pitchoff" now.

After all, Niemann is the first Rays starter to 10 wins after Tampa Bay's 7-1 victory over the Royals at the Trop on Saturday afternoon.

But before Niemann, 26, turned into a surprisingly steady force on the Rays pitching staff, there was plenty of uncertainty surrounding the 6-foot-9 Texan's career.

Niemann reflected Saturday on his journey, on the anxious moments during the final day of spring training, when he and buddy Jason Hammel had a "pitchoff" for the final rotation spot, waiting alone together for hours in the minor-league clubhouse in Port Charlotte. One would be the fifth starter. The other would likely get traded, a destination unknown.

"I was sitting there with a Starbucks coffee, and had the little map of the U.S.," Niemann said. "We would say, 'Are you going to end up there? Or there?' We were pointing at spots on the map. Just trying to have fun with it, because it was driving us both nuts."

Niemann (10-5) is having his share of fun now, having put together another impressive performance: eight innings, one run, no walks against Kansas City. He wasn't as dominant as he was in his two-hit shutout against the Royals two months ago, but Niemann showed his growth by battling without his best curveball.

More important, Niemann helped Tampa Bay (57-47) move within five games of the first-place Yankees in the AL East, with two more games left against the AL-worst Royals (40-63).

"This is the first opportunity I've had to really come in and do some things, and I'm going to do everything I can to not let it slip away," Niemann said. "I'm definitely not taking anything for granted, just going out there and doing whatever I can to stick around."

Niemann wasn't a one-man show Saturday for the sellout crowd of 36,973. There was Jason Bartlett, who ripped a 3-and-2 pitch from lefty Bruce Chen into the rightfield corner for a two-out triple in the second, driving in two runs and scoring himself because of a wild throw.

There was the defense, which sparkled behind Niemann. From Carl Crawford's picture-perfect throw to get Brayan Peña at the plate (with catcher Dioner Navarro craftily blocking the plate), to a diving stop from Ben Zobrist and leaping catch by Carlos Peña, Niemann's teammates had his back.

"The defense played amazing," Niemann said. "There were five or six plays off the top of my head that really helped me out."

The Rays tagged on four runs in the eighth, started by a two-run homer by Crawford. That was more than enough for Niemann, who now has a staff-leading five outings of eight or more innings. "The way he's pitching has really surpassed my expectations," manager Joe Maddon said.

Count Peña, however, as one of his teammates who isn't surprised by the success. Peña said he told Niemann, the Rays' 2004 first-round pick, he expected as much during last season.

"I told him, 'You're a big-league pitcher — right now,' " Peña said. " 'You're a successful big-league pitcher. All you have to do is do your thing, be yourself and you've got everything you need.'

"Look at him now."

Joe Smith can be reached at

Rays 7

Royals 1

Jeff Niemann dominates to win 10th as Tampa Bay Rays improve to 8-0 against Royals 08/01/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 4, 2009 3:13pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Jameis Winston's subtle but strong moment of leadership displayed on 'Hard Knocks'


    Quarterback Jameis Winston went to each teammate in the locker room prior to the Bucs' preseason opener Friday at Cincinnati with one message: 'I got your back.'

    Then he proved it.

    Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston throws during the first half of the team's preseason NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Friday in Cincinnati. [AP photo]
  2. Bucs Cannon Fodder podcast: Highlights — and fights — from Jacksonville


    Greg Auman is back home after two days of joint practices between the Bucs and Jaguars in Jacksonville. He recaps those practices — and fights — and talks about highlights from Tuesday's episode …

    Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Kenneth Walker, right, cannot snag a pass against Bucs cornerback Ryan Smith during a joint NFL football practice Monday in Jacksonville. [Will Dickey/Florida Times-Union]
  3. Who's No. 2: Florida State Seminoles or Ohio State Buckeyes?


    The toughest decision in my first stint as a voter for the AP Top 25 came at the top.

  4. Rays morning after: The real reasons behind Tuesday's win over Blue Jays


    Scoring six runs was the big news for the offensively challenged Rays in Tuesday's victory over the Blue Jays.

    Corey Dickerson (10) celebrates Tuesday's victory with Steven Souza Jr. (20) and Peter Bourjos (18).
  5. Jones: Roberto Aguayo getting the boot was star of Tuesday's 'Hard Knocks'


    TAMPA — Roberto gets cut.

    That was the big story line heading into the second episode of HBO's Hard Knocks, the behind-the-scenes look at Bucs training camp. In fact, it was one of the most anticipated story lines Hard Knocks has had in years.

    Roberto Aguayo watches one of his final kicks Friday for the Bucs.