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Tampa Bay Rays pitchers pick up first two hits in final game in NL park

HOUSTON — In the first eight games of NL-rules interleague play, Rays pitchers didn't have a hit to show for the months of prep they put in. Then in the last game — from the least likely of candidates and in the most unlikely of situations — they got two.

RHP Jeff Niemann, who lasted only three innings in the followup to Monday's impressive return from the DL, ended their 19 at-bat 0-fer with a second-inning single.

Not to say it was much of a surprise, but Niemann was 0-for-12 with nine strikeouts in his big-league career and admitted that he'd been DH'ed for since his sophomore year in high school.

"It's unfortunate that's the only positive I can take out of today," he said. "Physically I felt fine, it was just a lack of execution."

With the Rays out of position players in the ninth and trying to extend what was then a one-run lead, Wade Davis got the rare chance to pinch-hit. Manager Joe Maddon picked Davis over the four remaining players (starters Jeremy Hellickson, David Price and James Shields, plus reliever Andy Sonnanstine, who would be needed for extra innings) because he had had three at-bats Saturday and had the most time until his next start.

Davis delivered — the first pinch-hit by a pitcher in four tries over 14 seasons — with a single to right. Making it more impressive, as well as adventurous and eventually worrisome: he advanced to second on a wild pitch and third on a single. Davis then broke fearlessly for home, getting called out after sliding into and knocking over C Carlos Corporan. "It's not something you're looking for," Maddon said.

It was the first time two Rays pitchers got a hit in a game and the second time two Rays got their first big-league hit in a game. Elijah Dukes and Akinori Iwamura did it April 2, 2007, at the Yankees.

SUT'S VIEW: Rick Sutcliffe knows plenty about pitching after spending 18 years in the majors (winning the 1984 NL Cy Young Award), several seasons as a minor-league coach and the past 15 years as a broadcaster.

And Sutcliffe, who will work tonight's game for ESPN, is impressed with what he has seen from rookie Hellickson.

"I see the same thing when I see him that I saw from Greg Maddux in the late 1980s and Mike Mussina in the early 1990s," Sutcliffe said. "I don't know how to explain what it is, but in tough situations he has better location and hits better spots. And he gets outs."

After a 7-3 start, Hellickson, 24, has lost his past three games, the combination of a lack of run support and costly mistakes.

SPEED ZONE: Reds LHP Aroldis Chapman brings more heat than anyone in recorded baseball history, clocked at 105 mph in September in San Diego then at 106 mph on the Great American Ballpark board April 18.

Several Rays saw Chapman when he was in Triple A last year and hit former C Dioner Navarro in the backside with a 103 mph pitch.

OF Matt Joyce homered off Chapman but said it was a relatively pedestrian fastball. "I turned around 95, and then he pumped it up. Next at-bat I faced him, I saw 99 right here (at his head). I don't know if he did it on purpose, but 99 at your dome, that's not a good feeling. That's scary," Joyce said.

"It's coming in hot, that's for sure. I haven't seen 105. I've never seen 105. I don't know if I really want to see it when I'm hitting."

MISCELLANY: With four hits, Johnny Damon moved to within three of Ted Williams' 2,654 and 71st place on the alltime list. … 3B Evan Longoria had his seventh multi-homer game, first since Aug. 4, 2009. It was the first multi-homer game for a Ray this season. … CF B.J. Upton homered in three consecutive games for the second time, also April 18-19-20 last season. … The win was their major league-leading 26th on the road.

Tampa Bay Rays pitchers pick up first two hits in final game in NL park 06/26/11 [Last modified: Sunday, June 26, 2011 9:54pm]
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