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Rays starter Sonnanstine winning at club-record pace

TORONTO — Andy Sonnanstine has pitched so well that manager Joe Maddon said what he does is "beyond the point of surprise."

But the company Sonnanstine has put himself in might be.

Already the first Ray to win four games in April, Sonnanstine will be the quickest to five wins in franchise history if he earns a victory over Toronto tonight in the team's 32nd game. (Scott Kazmir got his fifth win in the Rays' 35th game in 2006).

On a broader scale, Sonnanstine is 9-3 in his past 15 starts dating to Aug. 15 at Fenway Park (after starting his career 1-8). During that span, the only major-league pitchers with more victories are Arizona's Brandon Webb (13), the Yankees' Chien-Mien Wang (12) and San Diego's Jake Peavy (10).

"Everyone wants to look at his velocity (routinely 86-88 mph), and it's not as great as everybody else's," Maddon said. "But he makes pitches, and he pitches with conviction with his fastball, and there's something to be said for that."

Sonnanstine, 3-0 with a 1.57 ERA in his past three starts, plans to keep doing what has been working, using his fastball primarily and being aggressive with it. And he has no thoughts of changing his approach just because Jason Hammel was the starter demoted to make room for Kazmir.

"Earning that spot gives me confidence, and confidence makes me relax a little bit." Sonnanstine said. "(But) no matter who's in the rotation, I'm going to have to pitch well to stay there."

Pitching in Toronto will always be special for Sonnanstine, because it was where he made his somewhat unexpected major-league debut nearly a year ago, in a game June 5 in which he pitched well and the bullpen blew a huge lead.

"It's a completely different feel," he said. "It was exhilarating; I had family and friends there; I was just excited to be there. Now I feel like I really belong, and I'm excited to go back."

Going long: Rookie 3B Evan Longoria has slumped a bit, going 5-for-29 in his past eight games, dropping his average to .239. "I feel like I'm swinging the bat the same, just not getting the results," he said. "I've got to start putting the ball in play more; I feel like I'm striking out too much (11 times in the eight games). But that will all come. I'm not worried about it."

Meek return: Reliever Evan Meek was designated for assignment by the Pirates, but the Rule 5 draft pick might not be returned to the Rays. Pittsburgh media are reporting that the Pirates are trying to work out a deal with the Rays, possibly for cash, to keep Meek, who gave up 11 hits and 12 walks in 13 innings.

Miscellany: RHP Jeff Niemann, who hasn't pitched for Triple-A Durham since being sent down April 21 because of shoulder stiffness, is scheduled to start Thursday. … Ben Zobrist (fractured left thumb) played shortstop and Cliff Floyd (right knee surgery) was the DH in an extended spring game Monday. … The Rays' bullpen ERA of 2.96 was fourth best in the majors going into Monday's games, trailing Oakland, Arizona and Philadelphia.

Rays starter Sonnanstine winning at club-record pace 05/05/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 6, 2008 9:34am]
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