OAKLAND, Calif. — The word RHP Andy Sonnanstine used was "embarrassing."
As much as he believes he isn't pitching that poorly, and as close as he thinks he is to winning, Sonnanstine was realistic enough to properly assess Sunday's outing, in which he allowed seven runs on 10 hits (both matching his career highs) in four-plus innings, with 12 of the 22 batters he faced reaching base.
"It's tough," he said. "It's an embarrassing start. It's something I'm going to have to get through, and hopefully I'll feel a lot better next time out."
Any kind of success would feel good now, as last season's surprise 13-game winner is now 0-3 with a 7.78 ERA in four starts and has allowed 28 hits (and eight walks) in 192/3 innings. He hasn't won in his past 11 regular-season starts, though he did win twice in the playoffs.
Sonnanstine doesn't think there is much wrong or that he needs to make major changes. "Personally, I don't feel it's that big of a situation," he said. "I feel like what I'm doing now is close to being really good. It's just one big inning here, a couple pitches up in the zone that are really hurting me right now."
If Sonnanstine were to continue to struggle, he could be sent to the bullpen or the minors, but manager Joe Maddon said he plans to be patient and believes a turnaround is close.
The primary problem he saw Sunday was bad location of the fastball.
"Looking at the (radar) gun, it's a lot of 88-89s, which I like," Maddon said. "I saw some breaking balls with good depth. I just think with Sonny he looks a lot like he did last year in September (0-3, but a 3.16 ERA in five starts) when he was pitching really well, and it's just not happening right now."
Big step: RHP Jeff Niemann has gotten better, and more comfortable, through each of his three starts (with a 2.87 ERA since the rocky first inning of his debut).
And as he makes his fourth start tonight, Maddon is looking forward to the 6-foot-9 right-hander getting enough confidence to start using his curveball and slider in more key situations.
"As he gains more confidence and more composure, you're going to see some really good ones when he's behind in the count," Maddon said. "I'd like to think he's getting to that point now."
Niemann said he's close. "It's weird," he said. "You can do it in the bullpen as many times as you want, but once you get out there and do it out there under those lights and those circumstances and that pressure, your mind remembers that and you can do it again. Hopefully I can break one off pretty soon and get that feeling."
Happy trails: The Rays don't sound too sentimental about making their last visit to the Metrodome, which the Twins are leaving for a new outdoor stadium next season. "That's okay," Maddon said.
"Good riddance," said RHP Matt Garza, a former Twin who has good reason for not liking the dome, having won once in 13 appearances there (1-10, 5.91 ERA). "So I'm like the (heck) with it."
But the Rays may also have a hard time warming up to the idea of outdoor baseball in Minnesota.
"That's even worse," Garza said. "Not one of the smartest moves I've seen in baseball. Just weather-wise, it will be great in June, July and August, but into September, April, May it's going to be horrible. And if they get into the postseason, it's even worse.
"Usually you build a park to benefit your team, the home team. But that's just going to hurt, because they're going to have to pitch more in the cold than anyone else."
Miscellany: LHP David Price had another rough outing for Triple-A Durham on Sunday, reaching his 75-pitch limit without getting out of the fourth inning, allowing three runs on four hits (two homers) and four walks in 31/3 innings. In four starts, Price is 1-2, 3.71 with 14 hits, 20 strikeouts and eight walks in 17 innings. … Tonight's TV coverage was switched from FSN to Sun Sports. … The Rays are 15-39 in Oakland. … Class A Bowling Green made six errors in an 8-1 loss Saturday.