As long as the Rays are facing NL opponents, however, giving the ball to him shouldn’t be a concern.
Sonnanstine has won six consecutive interleague decisions, a string of success Tampa Bay would love to see continue Friday night as it opens a three-game series at Citi Field against the New York Mets.
Sonnanstine (5-6, 6.65 ERA) became a fixture in the back end of the Rays’ rotation last season, pitching nearly 200 innings and posting a respectable 4.38 ERA in 32 starts as Tampa Bay (35-33) made its first postseason appearance.
But with star left-hander Scott Kazmir(notes) among a slew of key players on the disabled list, Sonnanstine hasn’t been able to step up and duplicate that success. He’s 4-0 with a 4.15 ERA at home but is a woeful 1-6 with an 8.55 ERA on the road, where he’s allowed opponents to hit .343.
Still, Sonnanstine has been an interleague workhorse. He’s 7-2 with a 3.88 ERA in 10 career starts against the NL, and 2-0 with a 2.70 ERA this season.
Sonnanstine gave up three runs and six hits and tied a season high by lasting 7 1-3 innings - at one point retiring 15 in a row - Saturday in an 8-3 win over Washington.
“Maybe he gets more pumped because he’s actually hitting,” manager Joe Maddon said of Sonnanstine, a .333 (6 for 18) career hitter. “That definitely picks him up. He loves that.”
The Mets (33-31) rank 28th in the majors in homers with 41 - Carlos Beltran(notes) and Gary Sheffield(notes) lead with eight apiece - but may see that total rise. Sonnanstine has allowed seven homers in his last three starts and 13 in his past seven.
Sonnanstine could use some support from his lineup, which put up three runs as Tampa Bay dropped its last two games in Colorado after winning 12-4 on Tuesday. The Rays only scored once before the ninth inning in a 4-3 loss on Thursday.
Tampa Bay is 1-24 when it fails to score more than three runs.
Acquired off waivers in the offseason from Houston, Nieve made an impressive debut Saturday against the New York Yankees. He gave up four hits and two runs in 6 2-3 innings in a 6-2 win.
“I didn’t feel nervous,” said Nieve, who’s replacing the injured John Maine(notes) in the Mets’ rotation. “It’s baseball. It’s my job. I have been doing that for a while, just trying to do the same that I’ve been doing for years.”
New York could use a quality start from Nieve after losing for the sixth time in eight games on Thursday. The Mets led 4-3 heading into the ninth, but Baltimore took advantage of closer Francisco Rodriguez’s(notes) second blown save in a 5-4 victory.
“You know at some point that he’s not going to be perfect,” manager Jerry Manuel said. “He’s been able to walk that tightrope here occasionally, but he’s been able to get it done. Tonight, it just didn’t happen his way.”
Tampa Bay and New York have met 12 times - none since 2001 - with the Mets holding a 7-5 edge.