TORONTO — The Rays hitters couldn't do much in Sunday's 5-1 loss against Toronto's Brett Cecil, the latest in a string of young lefties who have stymied them.
And there wasn't much RHP Jeff Niemann could do to help.
The rookie lost for the first time since May 28, dropping to 9-5 with a 3.81 ERA, but still gave the Rays a solid start. He worked into the seventh on a day the bullpen was thin and made only one real mistake, a slider that didn't slide and Scott Rolen turned into a three-run homer.
"I was really pleased with Niemann once again," manager Joe Maddon said. "He's starting to really look like a major-league pitcher. Very repetitious delivery, in a good way. Good breaking ball again. He just made a mistake. Otherwise, he might have pitched a complete game again."
Niemann knew innings were important.
"I felt pretty good," he said. "We attacked the strike zone the best we could. We just made a few mistakes, and they took advantage of them."
NOTHING DOING: The Rays have struggled when facing pitchers for the first time, and it happened again as they got just four hits off Cecil and five for the day.
Their only run came on Carl Crawford's 10th homer, and they had only two rallies, with DH Pat Burrell killing both.
"Pretty much, that was it," Maddon said.
Burrell grounded to the mound with two on to end the first and took a called third strike with two on to end the seventh.
"He got ahead right away and threw a pretty good breaking ball, and then he nailed a pitch inside on me there. I just couldn't get to it,'' Burrell said. "What you're trying to do is get a hit. Get a good ball to hit and put a good swing on it, which I did neither of."
CROWD CONTROL: With advance sales for the Yankees games apparently not going all that well — the Rays offering the polite, "tickets are available in all price categories" — Maddon and RHP James Shields again appealed to fans to come out and support the team.
"We're in contention, and we're going to need their help," Shields said.
"I think we thrive off of having the big crowds. If they can come out and cheer us on, that would be great."
Maddon said the impact of a full, loud, pro-Rays Trop is large.
"I'd like to believe that we've flipped the fan base over in our area and now they are truly Rays fans," he said. "I know we're still infiltrated by the enemy on occasion. But having gone to the World Series last year, I'd like to believe that the people want to come out there and help us get back to it."
ROSTER REPORT: LHP Brian Shouse is set to be reinstated from the disabled list today. Sending RHP Dale Thayer back to Triple-A Durham seems the obvious move to make room, but the Rays held off Sunday. One possibility is they decide to expand the bullpen to eight, at least temporarily, and instead drop rarely used INF Joe Dillon.
MISCELLANY: At 6-4, the Rays had their second winning road trip of the season. … The Rays joined the 1986 Indians as the only teams in the past 40 years to win five games in a nine-day period when trailing in the eighth or later.