The AL wild card-leading Rays seek their first road sweep of the Toronto Blue Jays since 2003 as Niemann takes the mound for Sunday’s series finale.
Niemann (10-6, 4.28 ERA) is 0-3 with a 20.70 ERA in three starts since returning from the DL on Aug. 25, and has allowed at least six earned runs in each appearance.
The right-hander was unable to make it out of the second inning Monday, yielding six runs in 1 2-3 innings of work in the Rays’ 12-5 loss to Boston.
“Yeah, everything is fine. Just couldn’t do what I wanted with the ball,” Niemann said after his previous outing. “Command was off big-time and went to a lot of bad counts and they were sitting on some pitches. We’ve been working hard to try and find out what’s going on and we feel great.”
Despite his recent struggles, Niemann is not in danger of losing his rotation spot, as the Rays (86-55) remain optimistic he will regain the form that led him to a 7-2 record with a 2.77 ERA prior to the All Star break.
“He’s just having a hard time commanding his fastball, which truly is his strong point. That is just going to take some time,” Rays’ manager Joe Maddon said. “You do that by just working out in the bullpen and throwing the ball to your spots and when you get in the game, executing your game plan. I would say some of it has to do just between the ears a bit, just getting your confidence back.”
Niemann struggled in his last game against the Blue Jays, surrendering seven runs and seven hits in five innings during a 13-5 loss Aug. 31.
After pulling to 4-4 on its nine-game road trip, Tampa Bay will try to sweep a three-game series on the road for the first time since May 4-6 against Seattle.
He recorded win No. 12 in Toronto’s 8-5 victory over Texas on Tuesday, giving up three runs on six hits over seven innings. Marcum is 2-1 with a 2.31 ERA in his last five starts, and will be looking for back-to-back wins for the first time since July 24 and 30.
He is 0-2 with a 5.89 ERA in three starts against the Rays this season.
Jose Bautista(notes) has a major league-leading 46 home runs, one shy of George Bell’s single-season Blue Jays record set in 1987. Bell won the AL MVP that year, and Bautista’s power numbers are getting him consideration for this year’s award.
“He’s truly been one of the best players in the American League this year and should definitely be considered as an MVP candidate,” Maddon told the Blue Jays’ official website. “The kind of year he’s having is truly spectacular. You talk from an offensive perspective, but look at the plays he’s made on defense. This guy is a really good defender, too. He’s a really good baseball player.”
Bautista, however, has struggled against Niemann over his career, going 1-for-12 with four strikeouts.