Heading out on the road couldn’t help the Tampa Bay Rays break out of their worst slump in what’s been a stellar season.
The Tampa Bay right-hander will try to improve to 6-0 and win an unprecedented third consecutive start in the second of a three-game series against the Toronto Blue Jays, winners of four straight.
A 3-2 defeat in Monday night’s opener marked the Rays’ sixth defeat in eight games. Despite not getting a hit until the sixth inning, Tampa Bay (34-18) still had a chance to push across the tying run with one out in the ninth, but Evan Longoria(notes) was thrown out trying to score on John Jaso’s(notes) grounder to shortstop Alex Gonzalez.
The Rays, a major league-best 19-6 away from home, are hoping Niemann (5-0, 2.37 ERA) can help them avoid matching a season high with a third straight loss.
Tampa Bay could use a strong effort from its right-hander after seeing its six-game AL East lead trimmed to 2 1/2 in eight days. The Rays also led the Blue Jays (31-22) by seven games on May 23 but that advantage is down to 3 1/2.
Tampa Bay has won in each of Niemann’s last five appearances, and he ended his club’s three-game slide Thursday by allowing one run and three hits over eight innings against the visiting Chicago White Sox.
“He’s got great stuff. He has weapons for both righties and lefties. He throws strikes with all of his pitches, and he has a pretty good array,” manager Joe Maddon told the team’s official website. “He may be our most consistent starter that we have night after night.”
The Rays also won in Niemann’s only start this season against the Blue Jays, 9-3 on April 24, as he allowed three runs and five hits over 6 2-3 innings. Niemann, who did not get a decision in that victory, is 2-1 with a 4.67 ERA in four career starts versus Toronto.
Brian Tallet(notes) (1-1, 6.11) is expected to start for the Blue Jays and make his return from forearm stiffness in his pitching arm. The left-hander, however, was far from sharp in his two rehab starts, going 0-1 with a 13.50 ERA and surrendering 11 hits over 5 1-3 innings.
Those struggles could continue Tuesday as Tallet was 0-1 with an 11.05 ERA in three starts last season against Tampa Bay.
Even if he has another bad outing versus the Rays, Tallet could get some help from his teammates, who hit a club-record 54 homers in May and lead the majors with 89.
“That’s probably one of the toughest things to do in baseball is to hit a home run,” manager Cito Gaston told the Blue Jays’ official website. “So far, they have just been coming and coming. I can’t explain it. … I thought this was the kind of team (we would have), and so far, they haven’t proved me a liar.”
Toronto, undefeated nearly halfway through its nine-game homestand, will try to win six straight at Rogers Centre for the first time since May 15-30, 2009.