Kansas City (49-68) at Tampa Bay (62-54)

Fair Currently: St. Petersburg, FL
Temp: 71° F
  • Game info: 12:10 pm EDT Thu Aug 11, 2011
  • TV: SUN
Preview | Box Score | Recap

Jeff Niemann(notes) has played a key role in the Tampa Bay Rays’ recent surge. He’s also fared extremely well when facing the Kansas City Royals throughout his career.

The right-hander looks to continue his recent success both overall and against the Royals when the Rays try for a four-game sweep Thursday at Tropicana Field.

Tampa Bay (62-54) used a five-run ninth inning to shock Kansas City and win 8-7 on Wednesday. Though the Rays are in third place and 10 games behind AL East-leading Boston, they have won nine of 13 and are playing with confidence.

Niemann (6-4, 3.58 ERA) has done his part to contribute, going 5-0 with a 2.26 ERA in eight starts since a stint on the disabled list with a lower back strain. He came within one out of a complete game in an 8-4 win over Oakland on Friday.

“Everything was pretty good,” Niemann told the Rays’ official website. “Fastball location, the curveball and the breaking ball were good. That’s always nice.”

The Rays have lost just twice in Niemann’s last eight starts, including July 23 when he gave up three runs - two earned - in six innings of a 5-4, 10-inning defeat at Kansas City. He’s still 3-0 with a 1.15 ERA in five career appearances - four starts - against the Royals.

After Tampa Bay scored eight runs in each of his last two starts and again Wednesday, Niemann hopes the run support keeps coming in the finale. Matt Joyce(notes) had three hits Wednesday, including his 16th homer, and Sam Fuld(notes) hit a game-tying triple before scoring the winning run on an errant throw.

“We were just fortunate to get some big hits,” manager Joe Maddon said.

Joyce has hit .375 (9 for 24) with four RBIs in his last seven games.

Melky Cabrera(notes) hit a three-run homer and matched a career high with five RBIs to help the Royals (49-68) build their lead Wednesday, but their late meltdown left them with their fifth loss in six games.

Kansas City closer Joakim Soria(notes) allowed three runs while recording just two outs to blow his seventh save in 28 chances, leaving manager Ned Yost at a loss for words.

“I really don’t know what to say,” he said.

Despite his team’s continued struggles in St. Petersburg, where the Royals are 6-23 since 2005, Cabrera is 5 for 11 in this series and batting .390 with six doubles and 10 RBIs in his last 15 games.

Highly touted catching prospect Salvador Perez(notes) got his first career hit and RBI while making several key defensive plays in his major league debut Wednesday.

“We’ll get him in there as much as we can,” Yost said. “He’s got a chance to be really good. He’s a young kid, but he’s got tremendous tools. Very athletic.”

Rookie Danny Duffy(notes) (3-5, 5.08) makes his 15th start in the majors and first against the Rays on Thursday. The 22-year-old left-hander allowed three runs in five innings of a 4-3 loss to Detroit on Saturday.

“It’s a great experience for him up here,” Yost said. “He’s got a chance to be a good one, but it’s still a process.”

That’s been especially clear lately, with Duffy failing to pitch more than five innings in any of his last three outings.

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Starting Pitchers

D. Duffy KC vs. J. Niemann TB
4-8 Record 11-7
5.64 ERA 4.06
87 K 105
51 BB 37
1.61 WHIP 1.24


Thursday, Aug 11