Fourth time not the charm: Rays hit and score more but still fall to Halos 5-3

In between those two frames, Sean Rodriguez put the Rays on the score sheet with a solo bomb to left field.

However, the fifth inning saw Niemann struggle anew. It started with a leadoff triple by Kendrick – the man who started Niemann’s outing off in the wrong direction; he crossed the plate with ease on Hunter’s one-out single. Two pop outs to Ben Zobrist later and the Rays were given another chance at the plate.

They managed two very respectable walks.

Niemann was yanked in favor of Juan Cruz after Izturis led off the seventh with a base hit. It’s a bit shocking that Niemann made it that far, throwing 64 strikes in 91 pitches; he had thrown 35 in the first inning alone and 70 by the start of the fourth. All told, Niemann pitched 6 innings plus 1 batter and allowed 5 runs on 9 hits, striking out 4 while walking one.

“I thought Jeff settled in and pitched well,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “I thought the bullpen was very sharp tonight.”

Tampa Bay broke out of that nasty 1-run-on-4-hits streak that haunted them in the opening series against the Baltimore Orioles. The bad news is they still lost. They gave the comeback attempt an honest effort, though. With Zobrist on first after a walk to lead off the eighth, B.J. Upton went long in left, a 2-run shot that breathed new life into a stagnant yet verbally displeased crowd of 13,173 at the Trop.

Here's the thing: Niemann could have pitched really poorly and the team still could have won were it not for the fact that certain other things are lacking at the Trop. Like the man said during spring training – there's that link again – it’s no big secret when your record sucks; it comes down to the things you’re doing or not doing.

“We’re playing the game pretty well right now, we’re just not hitting. That happens,” Maddon said. “If we’re playing well, that’s all I can ask for.”

“If our pitching was awful and we were making a lot of errors, I’d be concerned.”

Rays of hope?

On the brighter side, B.J. Upton is playing well. He has hits in each of the first four games, including tonight’s home run. It has to feel good to be the beacon, right?

“My personal success means nothing at this point,” Upton said. “We’re 0-and-4; obviously we don’t want to be 0-and-4.”

“We look good, it’s just not going our way right now. That’s baseball."


Manny not being Manny:

New Ray Manny Ramirez has found his way out of favor with the Tropicana faithful. Boos began to trickle down through the spotty grandstands as Ramirez – 1-for-16 through 4 games, a bleak .063 average – struck out thrice on the evening but his teammates and skipper were quick to come to his defense.

Maddon called it “unfair” and stressed how hard Ramirez works, saying Manny will be just fine.

“The last thing I want him to do is feel like he has to carry us,” Maddon said.

Upton – hitting .333 by contrast – also had something to say about the booing.

“That bothered me,” he said. “If you’re a [real] baseball fan, you know what type of player he is.”

Is the starting pitching in which Rays manager Joe Maddon was so confident in CL’s shamelessly-self-promoted Q&A officially suspect? The people present Exhibit A: Jeff Niemann’s night at Tropicana Field in game 4 against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, hereinafter referred to as the Team With Too Many Words In Its Name.

After Maicer Izturis popped out to start the first inning, the towering Texan gave up consecutive base hits to Howie Kendrick, Bobby Abreu and Torii Hunter, with Kendrick scoring. Niemann struck out Vernon Wells, then allowed another single – this one to Alberto Callaspo for 2 RBI – before catching Mark Trumbo looking to end a long first inning.

“I was a little amped up out there and not really being able to execute,” Niemann said. “A few ground balls got through and that happens.”

After a brief respite in the home half of the first, it was back in the skillet for Niemann, who yielded a career-first homer to the Halos' Hank Conger. Peter Bourjos followed that up with a base hit, bringing Andy Sonnanstine up in the Rays’ bullpen.

It appeared that fearing the hook got Niemann straightened out; he laid down a 1-2-3 top of the third – including another Trumbo strikeout looking – which at the time seemed inconceivable. He followed it up with more of the same in the fourth frame, getting Peter Bourjos swinging and Izturis looking.

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