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Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Andy Sonnanstine pleased with start against Red Sox

ST. PETERSBURG — Throughout his early season struggles, RHP Andy Sonnanstine was trying to match how good he felt physically with some better results.

Friday night, he did just that.

Sonnanstine battled through 52/3 innings against the Red Sox, hanging on just enough to pick up his first win of the season (and first in his past 12 regular-season starts).

Though Sonnanstine (1-3, 6.75) said, "We're still not where we need to be," he was encouraged with how he worked his way through control issues (four walks, one with the bases loaded) and made in-game mechanical adjustments, minimizing the damage (just two runs on eight hits).

As manager Joe Maddon said, "A much better performance."

Sonnanstine is 2-0 with a 1.67 ERA in his past four starts against Boston.

"I thought Sonnanstine pitched pretty well," Maddon said. "A nice comeback for him."

encore: Backup C Michel Hernandez's special night didn't end when the game did.

Hernandez, an 11-year minor-league veteran, said he was so excited after going 4-for-5, including his first big-league double, RBI and home run, in Thursday's 13-0 win over the Red Sox, he couldn't sleep.

So Hernandez, 30, stayed up and watched a replay of the game, with the biggest highlight his home run in the fourth off of Josh Beckett.

"I was excited," Hernandez said. "I was hitting, replay, replay, replay."

Hernandez plans to save the home run ball and put it next to the one from his first big-league hit (in 2003 with the Yankees).

MIXING IT UP: Since RHP Jeff Niemann gave up five runs in the first inning of his season debut, Maddon said he has had a much better ability to handle difficult moments.

Niemann said he has gotten more comfortable with each start but wants to improve on making in-game adjustments in tonight's start. And Maddon would like to see the hard thrower incorporate more breaking balls.

"He has an uncanny ability to throw it for a strike, slider and a curveball, which is unusual," Maddon said. "It's mostly pitchers have one or the other that he's good with. (Niemann has) two that he's good with and has command of both of them."

A-Rod Doubts: RF Gabe Kapler, who played with Alex Rodriguez from 2001-02 in Texas, didn't want to specifically address the allegations in the upcoming book A-Rod that Rodriguez tipped pitches to opposing players. But Kapler expressed doubt that any major-leaguer would do it.

"It's unfathomable," he said. "It's something I can't even comprehend. I don't even think it's something where guys even talk about it, ponder it, consider it. It's just one of those things that is so far-fetched."

too PUMPED UP: Bucs coach Raheem Morris has said he wanted to throw out a first pitch at a Rays game. Friday, he did just that.

Morris threw hard, a fastball in the dirt that was saved by a backhand scoop by Maddon, a former minor-league catcher.

"That was a heck of a catch by Joe Maddon," Morris said. "I'm glad he caught it. They messed me up with the national anthem. It got the chills going through me, and I had to throw right away. I needed a warmup after that."

big bullpen: The Rays bullpen has a 1.21 ERA (292/3 innings, four earned runs) over its past 11 games after compiling a 5.59 ERA (37 innings, 23 earned runs) in its first 13.

izzy update: Maddon said that RHP Jason Isringhausen, scratched from Thursday's appearance at Triple-A Durham with an abdominal strain, is fine and will continue his rehab assignment as scheduled.

Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Andy Sonnanstine pleased with start against Red Sox 05/01/09 [Last modified: Saturday, May 2, 2009 12:18am]

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