ST. PETERSBURG — Jeff Niemann's dazzling debut Sunday was capped off with a congratulatory postgame beer bath from his teammates.
The 25-year-old right-hander's second outing simply ended in an early shower.
Niemann struggled to throw strikes Friday night, and when he did, the White Sox made him pay in a 9-2 loss in front of 12,379 at Tropicana Field. For Tampa Bay (7-10), it was the fourth loss in its past five games.
The 6-foot-9 Niemann, who gave up one run over six innings against the Orioles in his first start, was pulled in the fourth inning Friday after giving up eight runs (five earned) and four walks. Manager Joe Maddon said he "didn't think Niemann was that bad," pointing to defensive mistakes by the Rays.
But to the tall Texan, he just didn't have the same stuff.
"I was pretty erratic tonight," Niemann said. "You learn the hard way."
Niemann wasn't helped by his defense, which made two miscues that sparked back-to-back four-run innings by the White Sox. In the third, Juan Uribe reaching first on a throwing error by shortstop Jason Bartlett (his fourth in seven games). Niemann walked Nick Swisher, then fell behind slugger Jim Thome, who crushed a 3-and-2 delivery off a catwalk in rightfield for a 418-foot, three-run homer. On the next pitch, Paul Konerko belted a solo homer to leftfield to give the White Sox a 4-0 lead.
Niemann's control cost him again in the fourth when the White Sox (10-6) batted around. Carlos Quentin's leadoff grounder to third was fielded cleanly by Evan Longoria, but the rookie's throw was wide of Eric Hinske, who was filling in for Carlos Pena (hamstring tightness) at first base.
Quentin moved to second on the error and scored on Uribe's double down the rightfield line. Niemann, laboring to get out of the jam, walked Swisher, and after walking Thome to load the bases, there were some scattered boos among the Trop crowd.
The Rays' relievers (left-hander Kurt Birkins and right-hander Scott Dohmann) were solid, giving up just one run in 52/3 innings, dropping the bullpen's ERA to 2.93.
The Rays' bats, however, remained silent.
In the second, Tampa Bay loaded the bases with one out against White Sox starter Javier Vazquez but came up empty when Bartlett grounded into an inning-ending double play.
The only runs came in the sixth when Longoria, fresh off the announcement of his lucrative long-term deal, hit an RBI groundout and Jonny Gomes added an RBI double.
"I thought (Niemann) threw the ball relatively well," Maddon said. "We made some mistakes, and they jumped on it."
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