Chicago (4-4) at Tampa Bay (4-5)

Partly Cloudy Currently: St. Petersburg, FL
Temp: 79° F
  • Game info: 7:08 pm EDT Thu Apr 16, 2009
  • TV: CLTV, FSFL
Preview | Box Score | Recap

It’s been a little more than six months since the Tampa Bay Rays beat the Chicago White Sox to win the first playoff series in the club’s initial postseason appearance.

With both setting their sights on a return trip to the playoffs, they’ll meet Thursday night in the opener of a four-game series at Tropicana Field.

In between an improbable run to the AL East pennant and losing to Philadelphia in the World Series, Tampa Bay eliminated Chicago in four games of the best-of-5 division series. The Rays opened it with two home wins after going 6-4 against the White Sox in 2008.

Chicago has lost five in a row - including postseason matchups - at St. Petersburg.

Left-hander John Danks pitched well over 6 2-3 innings to help the White Sox to a 5-3 win over the Rays in Game 3 of the ALDS, and now will try to help Chicago (4-4) bounce back from a 9-0 loss at Detroit on Wednesday.

Danks (0-0, 0.00 ERA), who turned 24 on Wednesday, was scheduled to start Tuesday against the Tigers but was pushed back to open this series against Tampa Bay’s left-handed power-hitting lineup. A 12-game-winner last season, Danks is 3-1 with a 2.96 ERA in the regular season against the Rays (4-5).

In his 2009 debut, Danks allowed three hits and struck out five in six scoreless innings of a 2-1 loss to Kansas City last Thursday.

“With John, his arm seems to keep getting better,” teammate Paul Konerko told the White Sox’s official Web site. “His velocity is there and keeps climbing.”

Danks has limited Tampa Bay’s Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena - the club’s two main left-handed hitters - to a combined four hits in 19 at-bats. He won’t have to face star Evan Longoria, who’s hitting .441, but will miss a second straight game due to a death in the family.

Pena homered in Tampa Bay’s 4-3 home loss to the New York Yankees on Wednesday. The first baseman has three homers and nine RBIs in his last four games.

Crawford and B.J. Upton each added an RBI for the Rays, who dropped two in a row and the series to the Yankees after failing to hold a one-run lead going into the eighth inning.

One of the top bullpens in the majors last season, the Rays’ unit has a 10.45 ERA in its last four contests.

“As long as they’re healthy, I know they’re going to be fine,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Nobody’s going to be perfect.”

While Maddon remains optimistic about his bullpen, it’s uncertain how he’ll feel if rookie Jeff Niemann can’t rebound from his first start of 2009.

Niemann (0-1, 10.13) allowed six runs and six hits while walking four in 5 1-3 innings of a 6-0 loss at Baltimore on Saturday.

“It was a rough start,” said Niemann, who gave up five runs in the first inning. “(But) I battled back.”

One of the right-hander’s six career starts came against Chicago. He allowed five earned runs and walked four in 3 1-3 innings of a 9-2 home loss on April 18.

Konerko and Jim Thome each homered off Niemann in that contest. Konerko had one of four hits Wednesday for the White Sox, who had outscored their opponents 24-7 in winning their previous three contests.

Konerko is batting .357 (10-for-28) with two home runs and six RBIs.

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Starting Pitchers

J. Danks CWS vs. J. Niemann TB
13-11 Record 13-6
3.77 ERA 3.94
149 K 125
73 BB 59
1.28 WHIP 1.35

Scoreboard

Thursday, Apr 16