ST. PETERSBURG — Rays starter Jake Odorizzi never doubted he could pitch the way he did in Monday's 2-1 win over the Brewers.
Not when he was battling during spring training to win the fifth starting job. And not when he allowed 18 runs over a rough April.
"I knew the first month wasn't me," Odorizzi said. "I just had to get back to doing what I was doing."
Monday night at Tropicana Field, he mixed a strong fastball with a sharp slider to dominate a Milwaukee lineup loaded with right-handed hitters. Facing the club that drafted him No. 32 overall in 2008 — and traded him two years later — Odorizzi allowed three hits and one run in seven crisp innings.
"Odorizzi is the reason why we won," manager Joe Maddon said.
Odorizzi, plus another perfect night by the bullpen and a timely hit by James Loney.
After the Rays (52-54) mustered only two hits through the first five innings off Brewers starter Kyle Lohse, Ben Zobrist's walk started a two-out rally in the sixth. Matt Joyce followed with a single to left, and Evan Longoria took a borderline 3-and-2 pitch for a walk to load the bases.
"I was glad he walked him so I could get that chance," Loney said.
Loney capitalized, blooping a two-run single to center — his fifth bases-loaded hit of the season.
That was enough for Odorizzi. He needed only eight pitches in the first inning and retired the first seven batters before making his lone costly mistake — an inside fastball that became Mark Reynolds' fourth home run in his past five games.
But Odorizzi gave up only two hits the rest of the way, retiring 12 in a row at one point in front of an announced crowd of 12,660.
Rightfielder Kevin Kiermaier robbed Reynolds of an extra-base hit with a leaping catch in the fifth, and relievers Brad Boxberger and Jake McGee combined to strike out five in their perfect innings. McGee's 12th save in 13 chances secured the Rays' 10th win in their past 11 games.
"When things are going good like now, it's easy to pitch," Odorizzi said.
His results show it.
With Monday's five strikeouts, Odorizzi has 129 for the season — six behind the Yankees' Masahiro Tanaka for the rookie lead. Since posting a 6.85 ERA in April, Odorizzi's ERA is 3.00. His 91-pitch outing (with no walks) was the team-best eighth time he has allowed one or fewer runs this season, and he hasn't given up more than three runs in nine consecutive starts.
Odorizzi said he hasn't made any enormous changes but has simply tried to pick up little pointers from his teammates after every start.
"When it's going like that," he said, "you just don't change anything."
Contact Matt Baker at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.