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 pitches a two-hit shutout as the Tampa Bay Rays rout the Royals

ST. PETERSBURG — Rookie right-hander Jeff Niemann's five-year journey from being a top-five pick full of promise to the starting rotation has been a rocky one.

There have been injuries that have set him back, other pitchers who have passed him by. Niemann, 26, even had to battle to the final day of spring training before earning the fifth starter spot.

But the Rays have noticed a change in the 6-foot-9 Texan this season, from his comfort and confidence in the clubhouse and on the mound to his command of his breaking ball.

Wednesday night, Niemann put it all together with the best performance of his young career. Niemann was dominant, throwing a two-hit shutout in a 9-0 win over the Royals in front of 15,256 at Tropicana Field. He received a standing ovation, and he smiled big after getting a shaving cream pie smashed in his face.

"It was great," Niemann said. "I hope to get that feeling, remember what it feels like and strive for that every time out."

Said manager Joe Maddon: "That was really fun to watch — totally dominant from the very first inning."

Niemann now leads the staff with five wins, with the last one a masterpiece, carrying a no-hitter into the fifth. He said the key was being able to throw his breaking ball over for strikes, something he has struggled with.

"He's coming into his own," right-hander James Shields said. "I think he's starting to make a statement. … He's growing up."

And the Rays rotation is stepping up, with five straight strong starts. The Rays (27-28) moved within five games of first place in the AL East, and Maddon said in order to "get back to the promised land," the starting pitching will have to drive them.

"If we're gonna win again this year, which I believe we shall, we've got to pitch," he said.

The Rays, who entered tied for the major-league lead in runs, haven't had trouble scoring. And even without Evan Longoria (sore left hamstring), they did the same against right-hander Brian Bannister, picking up 11 hits throughout their lineup.

There was centerfielder B.J. Upton, who, after struggling early in the season, appears to be getting into a groove, increasing his season-high hitting streak to seven games (10-for-24, .410) with two hits, including a two-run double in the second.

"It's getting there," Upton said. "I still have a long way to go, but if I can stay where I am the rest of the season, it should turn out pretty good for us."

And there was Ben Zobrist, whose two-out grand slam to leftfield in the fourth helped him tie a career high with a nine-game hitting streak. It was his second grand slam of the season and franchise-record fourth of his career. "To the opposite field, I'm not used to doing that," he said. "So that was a new thing."

But the night was for Niemann, who had a career-high nine strikeouts and threw 100 pitches, a picture of efficiency.

"Everybody has known since he got drafted that he has that in him," Zobrist said. "Sometimes it just takes a little bit (of time) to come out. You wait patiently, and to see him do what he did tonight is I think something he's definitely capable of."

Joe Smith can be reached at



Rays complete-game shutouts with two or fewer hits:

Pitcher Date/opponent Hits

Travis Harper 9/24/00 at Jays 2

Joe Kennedy 5/02/03 at Tigers 1

Doug Waechter 9/03/03 vs. Mariners 2

Scott Kazmir 7/03/06 vs. Red Sox 2

James Shields 4/27/08 vs. Red Sox 2

James Shields 5/09/08 vs. Angels 1

Matt Garza 8/15/08 at Rangers 2

Jeff Niemann 6/03/09 vs. Royals 2

Jeff Niemann pitches a two-hit shutout as the Tampa Bay Rays rout the Royals 06/03/09 [Last modified: Thursday, June 4, 2009 12:21am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Rays Kevin Cash: "We've got to turn it around. ... Time is of the essence"


    The question to manager Kevin Cash was about a rematch with the Mariners this weekend at the Trop, but he made clear this afternoon that with his Rays losing nine of their last 12 that they have to treat every game as essential.

    "We've got to turn it around,'' Cash said. "You can only delay it for so long and …

  2. Lightning wing J.T. Brown on why he donated to remove Confederate statue


    Lightning wing J.T. Brown was back in his Minneapolis offseason home over the weekend when he saw on TV the violent protests in Charlottesville over the removal of a Confederate statue.

    J.T. Brown decided to get involved, donating $1,500 to assist in removing a Confederate statue in Tampa.
  3. Rays, Bucs and Lightning join Dungy in donating to move Confederate monument


    The Tampa Bay area's three major league sports teams have pledged their financial support in moving a Confederate monument out of downtown Tampa.

    Tony Dungy in 2011. [Getty]
  4. Tim Tebow came into their life, and never left


    There are a lot of stories about Tim Tebow connecting with people during his life, Tebow inspiring them and Tebow being inspired.

    Boomer Hornbeck of Naples, Fla., has battled cerebral palsy and undergone surgery after surgery in the hopes of allowing him to one day walk. Inspired by Tim Tebow, and encouraged by his relationship with him, Hornbeck has become a motivational speaker.
  5. For starters: Rays at Jays, with Longoria moved to No. 2 spot in order


    UPDATE, 3:10: Cash said the change was made primarily for two reasons, to change the look for several of the hitters and to get back to alternating lefty and righty hitters to make it tougher for opposing managers to match up relievers. Cash said he plans to stick with this structure for a while but doesn't …

    Evan Longoria was moved from his usual No. 3 spot in the batting order up to second.