The Tampa Bay Rays haven’t opened with three straight wins since 2002. This season promises to have a far better ending than that one did.
The Rays look to complete a season-opening sweep of the Baltimore Orioles on Thursday night at Tropicana Field.
A slow start was among the biggest reasons why Tampa Bay (2-0) was unable to defend its AL East title last season, finishing 19 games behind the first-place Yankees.
Coming off dramatic 4-3 season-opening victory on Tuesday, the Rays stayed perfect with a 4-3 win Wednesday behind an outstanding performance from Matt Garza(notes), who allowed four hits over eight innings.
The Rays were a major league-best 20-8-2 in spring training.
“I think as a group we really have taken a lot of momentum from spring training into the season.” Longoria said. “It’s all really come together for us early. Hopefully we can continue it.”
The Rays have won 16 of 20 at home against the Orioles.
Baltimore (0-2) has been dismal in the clutch in this series, going 3 for 21 with runners in scoring position.
“We came up a little short,” manager Dave Trembley said. “We didn’t win the game. It wasn’t because we did anything wrong. The other team won.”
Leadoff batter Brian Roberts(notes) could still be feeling the effects of a slightly herniated disc in his back that limited him to six spring-training games. He is hitless in his first 10 at-bats and has stranded eight runners.
Jeff Niemann(notes) went 13-6 with a 3.94 ERA for Tampa Bay as a rookie last season, leading the staff in wins and complete games. The right-hander was particularly effective at home, going 6-2 with a 3.05 ERA in 12 starts.
Niemann is 2-2 with a 6.75 ERA in five starts against the Orioles in 2009, giving up 10 runs and 17 hits over 7 2-3 innings in the past two.
Matusz begins his first full major league season after going 5-2 with a 4.63 ERA in eight starts in 2009.
An early favorite for Rookie of the Year, the left-hander was by far Baltimore’s best pitcher during the spring, posting a 2.59 ERA while striking out 21 and walking three in 24 1-3 innings.
“If you saw Matusz, you would think Matusz had pitched in the big leagues for 10 years, he didn’t blink,” Trembley told the Orioles’ Web site.
Matusz won his only start against the Rays on Aug. 20, allowing four runs and seven hits in 5 1-3 innings.