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Tampa Bay Rays' Jeff Niemann looks like his old self

ST. PETERSBURG — Right-hander Jeff Niemann said the Rays wild, 1-0, 16-inning loss to the Red Sox Sunday was "probably the best game I've ever been a part of."

He also acknowledged it might have been the best performance of his big-league career.

Niemann was spectacular, throwing eight shutout innings against Boston, allowing two hits and striking out a career-high 10, matching Red Sox All-Star Josh Beckett pitch-for-pitch in an impressive duel.

"Jeff Niemann was outstanding," Maddon said.

Maddon has said Niemann has recently looked more like the pitcher who was one of the Rays most consistent starter before getting hurt late last season.

Niemann struggled after going on the disabled list with a right shoulder strain last August, and then again earlier this year before suffering a lower back strain.

But after returning from the DL in June, he's gone 3-0 with a 2.08 ERA, including allowing two earned runs over his past 211/3 innings.

Niemann, coming off a win over the Yankees (71/3 innings, one run), picked up where he left off, retiring nine of the first 10 batters (five via strikeout). He commanded his fastball and mixed in his array of offspeed pitches.

"The curve was good, the split was pretty good," Niemann said. "The fastball command helped me get to those points.,"

The only problem? Beckett was even better, allowing one hit over eight shutout innings, including retiring 19 straight.

Niemann stayed strong until the end, battling Jacoby Ellsbury in an eight-pitch at-bat before striking him out to end the eighth and drawing a standing ovation. His 118 pitches tied a career-high, but Maddon wanted to keep him in.

"I left him out there because I thought he still had really good stuff," Maddon said. "I thought he still had a good fastball, had a good breaking ball. When you bring a relief pitcher in, it's because you think the guy coming in has better stuff than the guy that was still out there. I just thought he was that good. I didn't want to take him out."

Tampa Bay Rays' Jeff Niemann looks like his old self 07/18/11 [Last modified: Monday, July 18, 2011 3:40am]
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