While all of the Tampa Bay Rays’ regular starting pitchers were getting a day off, the club still managed to grab a share of first place in the AL East.
The surging Minnesota Twins missed out on a chance to do the same in the AL Central, but they hope to have Joe Mauer(notes) back in the lineup Tuesday night as they continue a four-game series at Tropicana Field.
The Rays (66-39) took two of three from New York over the weekend, then pulled even with the Yankees on Monday after a 4-2 win over the Twins and Toronto’s 8-6 victory in the Bronx.
It’s the first time Tampa Bay has held a share of first place since June 19, and the Rays did it with rookie right-hander Jeremy Hellickson(notes) pitching seven strong innings to win his major league debut.
“We had this planned out. This is what we think is the right thing to do,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “(Hellickson) did his job. We’ve got five nice starters that got an extra day of rest because of him with a win.”
Tampa Bay had been the only team in the majors that had used only five starting pitchers before Monday, and Jeff Niemann(notes) (9-3, 3.08 ERA) returns to the mound Tuesday in hopes of becoming the fourth Rays starter to pick up his 10th victory.
The right-hander, however, hasn’t been at his best since the All-Star break, posting a 5.19 ERA and walking nine in three starts. He beat Detroit on Wednesday despite allowing four runs - including two homers - in six innings of a 7-4 win.
“Jeff wasn’t as sharp as he normally is,” Maddon told the Rays’ official website. “They actually hit balls hard against him tonight, which you don’t normally see.”
Niemann hopes to shut down a Minnesota lineup that was limited to four hits Monday after piling up 66 runs during its previous eight games - all victories.
The Twins (59-47) could have tied the White Sox atop the Central with a ninth consecutive win, but they played their second straight game without Mauer after the reigning AL MVP had a cortisone shot to his right shoulder.
“He’s OK. A little sore still from the shot,” Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He feels better. Give him another day and see where he’s at.”
Delmon Young(notes) has done his best to compensate, extending his hitting streak to 12 with a single Monday. Young, who is batting .481 with 17 RBIs during the streak, has gone 3 for 5 with a home run in his career against Niemann.
A reliable reliever for the Twins for most of the season, Duensing has also been sharp as a starter, allowing three runs over 11 innings at Baltimore and Kansas City. The left-hander beat the Royals on Wednesday, giving up two runs in six innings of a 6-4 victory.