ST. PETERSBURG — RHP Jeff Niemann said he feels great and is throwing the ball better.
But he's still not right, which was evident during Sunday's pivotal moment in the fourth inning of a 6-3 loss to the Angels. With two outs, Niemann, who had walked two in the inning, threw three full-count fastballs to rookie Peter Bourjos. Bourjos hit the third one 381 feet for a three-run homer that gave the Angels a 4-1 lead.
"That was the turning point in the game," manager Joe Maddon said. "When (Niemann) is right, he doesn't keep making the same mistake up."
Niemann, who lasted just 4 1/3 innings, extended his losing streak to a career-high four games, all since coming off the disabled list (shoulder strain). He is 0-4 with a 14.43 ERA in five outings in that stretch, a far cry from being one of the Rays' most consistent pitchers. Maddon isn't overly concerned, saying Niemann will make his next start.
"I don't see anything wrong with him, except he's just not able to execute his pitches right now as he had been able to earlier this season and last year," Maddon said. "And I really believe it's still building his confidence, and when we get that back, you're going to see that fastball where he wants it."
KID KAZ: Angels LHP Scott Kazmir said it felt good to pick up a win in his first start at Tropicana Field since getting traded by the Rays last August.
"But it's not how I drew it up, I'll tell you that," he said.
Kazmir threw 103 pitches over five innings. But he made big pitches when he needed to, including getting out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the first by striking out DH Rocco Baldelli and 2B Sean Rodriguez. "That was a big play," Maddon said. "It could have been an entirely different ball game."
Kazmir enjoyed the warm reception from fans. "I was pleased," he said. "I was thinking I might hear some boo-birds, but I didn't hear it, so I'll take it."
FEEL THE HEAT: LHP Jake McGee said he felt a lot more comfortable in his second big-league game, and it showed.
McGee pitched a 1-2-3 ninth, striking out two. He got Howie Kendrick with a 97 mph fastball and got slugger Bobby Abreu, who had two home runs Sunday, swinging with a fastball clocked at 98. Sunday was a far cry from McGee's debut Tuesday against New York, when he walked three of the four batters he faced, saying he was nervous and aimed for strikes instead of "letting it go."
"I felt a lot more like myself than last time," McGee said.
Abreu was impressed:
"He's going to be good. He's got a pretty good slider. … He's not afraid. I think it's very good the way he pitches, he comes right at you."
BOUNCE BACK: RHP Jeremy Hellickson had his best relief outing, giving up one hit over two innings, albeit it was a big blast, a 417-foot solo homer by Abreu that caromed off the D-ring catwalk.
Hellickson had allowed 11 hits and five runs in his first three relief appearances. On Sunday, Hellickson said he felt the same but threw more first-pitch fastballs. "I did a better job of going after guys," he said.
NO WORRIES: RHP Matt Garza hasn't been his typical self in his past two starts, allowing a combined 12 runs. He said he's fine physically, it's just "little mistakes here and there."
"It's more of being a little hiccup," Garza said. "I had eight straight outings, that was a good run. You've got to be able to deal with the good and the bad."
Garza said tonight's game will be an emotional one for the Yankees, who will unveil a monument of late owner George Steinbrenner in a pregame ceremony. "Hopefully we can sway that emotion to being a negative thing, more of a pulling down for them instead of an inspirational thing," he said.
MISCELLANY: 3B Evan Longoria hit his 45th double, a career high. … Maddon gave CF B.J. Upton a day off (playing Desmond Jennings there) and played Brad Hawpe at first base.