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Tampa Bay Rays' Andy Sonnanstine has fared very well in Seattle

SEATTLE — Andy Sonnanstine likes the coffee culture in Seattle, more of Starbucks man but willing to sample Seattle's Best and Tully's. He digs the alternate music, the geography, the scene at the Pike Place market and the overall vibe of the city.

"I really like the area,'' Sonnanstine said. "This has always been one of my favorite places to come on the road trips.''

He also has great admiration for Safeco Field, raving about the look, the retractable roof design and overall feel of the Mariners' home ballpark.

More important for the Rays, he has pitched well there, too.

The decision to rearrange the rotation for more favorable future matchups required the Rays to give another start to Sonnanstine, who was unimpressive in his first three and was headed that way in a fourth that was rained out in the third inning.

But with the opportunity to pitch him tonight against a Mariners team that ranks last in the league in hitting and in spacious Safeco Field, they decided it was worth the risk.

"That was part of it,'' manager Joe Maddon said. "To pitch in this ballpark, we thought, would be a good bet for him. We had to (rearrange the rotation) at some point. We just thought by doing it here, by shuffling the cards right now, with him pitching in this ballpark would be our best option.''

In four games (three starts) at Safeco, Sonnanstine is 1-1 with a 2.11 ERA, his lowest ERA of any park he has pitched in more than once. Overall, he is 1-2, 2.96 against the Mariners with 23 strikeouts.

"I would have to imagine the big gaps and the tradition of the ball not carrying well — beyond having excellent coffee — may have had a lot to do with it,'' Maddon said.

Said Sonnanstine: "It's a great park to pitch in. It plays pretty big. And if I'm a contact guy, I can use my defense a little bit better here as opposed to a Fenway or a Yankee Stadium, where a couple sweet-spot mistakes could really hurt you.''

Sonnanstine seemed headed back to the long relief role when the Rays summoned Alex Cobb from Triple-A Durham to start Tuesday but welcomed the chance to make another start.

"I just go with the flow,'' he said. "I know that with this role I can do both and, hopefully, do them successfully.''

A key is going back to a more creative style of pitching, changing speeds, location, arm angles and the timing of his delivery, more like he did during his 13-win 2008 season.

He said his one-inning relief stint on Monday gave him a good feeling and he liked throwing to catcher Kelly Shoppach, who is expected to be behind the plate again tonight.

"I really felt we clicked, and I threw a couple nice pitches, which was good for my confidence,'' he said.

"Hopefully, that translates into (tonight.).''

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay Rays' Andy Sonnanstine has fared very well in Seattle 06/03/11 [Last modified: Friday, June 3, 2011 3:26pm]
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