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Tampa Bay Rays starter Jeff Niemann sharp, gives bullpen a break

Jeff Niemann becomes only the second Rays starter this season to last eight innings, setting a career high.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Jeff Niemann becomes only the second Rays starter this season to last eight innings, setting a career high.

ST. PETERSBURG — RHP Jeff Niemann, who has struggled with consistency, was consistently good Monday night against the A's.

Niemann, 26, had one of his best outings of the season, pitching a career-high eight innings while having zero walks for the first time. Manager Joe Maddon said Niemann's fastball was down in the zone more consistently, and though he didn't have the desired breaking ball command, it was how Niemann was able to control his emotions that impressed him the most.

"He was able to make adjustments within the count and not let it get away from him," Maddon said. "And that's why he was able to pitch that deeply."

Niemann helped save the bullpen with just the second eight-inning outing by a Rays starter all season (Matt Garza had the other, May 5 vs. Baltimore). It was the first time a starter went more than six innings since May 10.

"It was a great feeling being out there in the seventh, eighth inning; I tried to remember what that feels like," Niemann said. "I felt pretty in control of myself and everything."

Step right in: RHP Jason Isringhausen rejoined the Rays after being activated from the disabled list and looked good in his first appearance.

Isringhausen, 36, was sharp in a scoreless ninth, throwing 14 of his 17 pitches for strikes while giving up just one hit. It was his first appearance in the majors since Aug. 16 for St. Louis.

"It was nice to be out there; I had nerves, believe me," Isringhausen said. "It started in the second and third inning because I didn't know when I'd be used. To get out there and get one out of the way was good."

Maddon said "there's no holding back with (Isringhausen) at all" and is comfortable using him in many situations from the seventh to ninth innings. "He looked good, he looked healthy," Maddon said. "He threw strikes. … Fastball was fine, good breaking ball, some good cutters."

Web gem: RF Ben Zobrist made the defensive play of the game in the sixth, sprinting into foul territory to snag a Matt Holliday fly ball before flipping himself over the short wall.

Zobrist said he didn't have a good feel for where the wall was, but the fall didn't hurt at all. "Really just did a cartwheel over there," he said. "When I realized … everything happened so fast. I was on the ground, I was like, 'I got the ball right now.' So I jumped up like, 'Yeah, I got it!' "

Sticking to it: With all the fuss by the Indians over B.J. Upton stealing two bases Thursday while the Rays were down 9-0, Maddon maintained that the game has changed since the "book" of unwritten rules was originally penned, with large leads not so insurmountable thanks to more home runs, etc.

"So for me, rewrite the book, do what you think is right for your organization, let everybody discipline their own group the way they would choose to," Maddon said. "And it's not necessary for another organization to tell the other organization how to do their business. Ever."

Maddon declined to respond directly to Indians C Victor Martinez's comments that Maddon "has to worry about teaching his (expletive) player to play the game the right way.''

"I will say this: I have a lot of respect for the Indians organization; (GM) Mark Shapiro and (manager) Eric Wedge, I believe they're great baseball guys and personally I like them a lot. However, when something like that happens we have to defend our own — always.''

NAVI OUT: Maddon said C Dioner Navarro was out of the lineup due to pinkeye, and he isn't sure he'll play tonight.

Streak over: The Rays' streak of 19 games with at least one stolen base ended. It was the longest such streak in the AL in 95 years, since the 1914 Yankees also stole in 19 straight.

Miscellany: The Rays have scored at least three runs in 21 straight games, the longest such streak by any team in the league this season.

Tampa Bay Rays starter Jeff Niemann sharp, gives bullpen a break 05/18/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 19, 2009 9:55am]
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