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Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Jeff Niemann struggles to locate his fastball

ST. PETERSBURG — Manager Joe Maddon has said RHP Jeff Niemann is at his best when he's able to keep his fastball down.

In Saturday night's 10-6 loss to the Red Sox, Niemann said he struggled throwing his fastball for strikes. And when he did, he left the ball up, as Maddon said, "presenting too much of the plate," and the Red Sox made him pay.

As a result, Niemann lasted just three innings in giving up six runs on seven hits with three walks. Niemann had been one of the most consistent Rays pitchers, able to wiggle his way out of jams. Not on Saturday, however.

"I was behind in the count all day and I paid the price for it," Niemann said. "I can't make mistakes like I was making out there. Just consistently up and wasn't able to get the ball down where I could make some pitches and make the defense work a little bit."

Maddon had said he'd like Niemann (2-3, 5.68) to mix in more breaking balls, which could help him get out of trouble. Maddon said he threw a few good ones Saturday, but Niemann said he "should have thrown it a few more times."

TOUGH NIGHT: LHP Brian Shouse said he threw more pitches Saturday (45) than he had in a "long, long time," the product of him not being able to command his breaking ball the way he wanted to.

Shouse entered in the sixth with the bases loaded and one out, trying to get an inning-ending double play, but Kevin Youkilis ripped a double down the leftfield line. In the seventh, Shouse intentionally walked Dustin Pedroia to get to David Ortiz, whom he hit with a pitch after getting ahead 0-and-2, then walked Youkilis with the bases loaded.

With the pitch count, Shouse will probably need a day to recover. "Just wasn't controlling it like I usually am," he said. "I couldn't make the adjustments where I get it over the plate for strikes."

BOUNCE BACK: RHP James Shields admits he hasn't been his typical self through the first month of the season.

The results haven't been bad by any stretch, as Shields (2-2, 3.74) has given up three runs or fewer in three of his five starts, keeping the Rays in the games.

Shields said his best pitch, the changeup, "hasn't been there," but he is confident he's close to putting things together after a recent bullpen session, when he worked on some mechanical issues.

"I think this last month I don't think I've had my good stuff at all," Shields said. "That's kind of unusual; normally you don't have your good stuff maybe once, twice a month. I haven't had my good stuff yet."

HOT BAT: 1B Carlos Peña hit his major-league-leading 11th home run, reaching base four times (2-for-3 with two walks). He now has 27 RBIs, second in the American League and three behind teammate Evan Longoria, who leads the majors.

SHORT NIGHT: Pitching coach Jim Hickey was ejected in the seventh inning by third-base umpire John Hirschbeck. "Just something between him and the umpires," Maddon said. "He said a couple things and I went out and talked to them, and I told (Hickey) the instructions that were given to me from the umpires for him specifically. And there was a point there where he didn't obey all the rules, thus they kicked him out."

MINOR MATTERS: LHP David Price started for Durham, giving up six runs (two earned) with three walks and one strikeout in 32/3 innings. RHP Jason Isringhausen is scheduled to throw one inning tonight for Durham.

MISCELLANY: Backup C Shawn Riggans (right shoulder tendinitis) said he felt good throwing to the bases during a pregame workout, the next step in his rehab. … RHP Troy Percival and Shouse will be signing autographs for kids 14 and under from 12:30 today along the first-base line. … Red Sox LF Jason Bay left the game in the sixth with a left ankle contusion.

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Jeff Niemann struggles to locate his fastball 05/02/09 [Last modified: Sunday, May 3, 2009 7:51am]
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