Orioles-Rays Preview

The Tampa Bay Rays haven’t opened with three straight wins since

2002. This season promises to have a far better ending than that

one did.

The Rays look to complete a season-opening sweep of the

Baltimore Orioles on Thursday night at Tropicana Field.

A slow start was among the biggest reasons why Tampa Bay (2-0)

was unable to defend its AL East title last season, finishing 19

games behind the first-place Yankees.

Coming off dramatic 4-3 season-opening victory on Tuesday, the

Rays stayed perfect with a 4-3 win Wednesday behind an outstanding

performance from Matt Garza, who allowed four hits over eight

innings.

Evan Longoria hit his second home run and drove in three for

Tampa Bay, which seeks its first 3-0 start in eight years. That

season, it lost a franchise-record 106 games.

The Rays were a major league-best 20-8-2 in spring training.

“I think as a group we really have taken a lot of momentum from

spring training into the season.” Longoria said. “It’s all really

come together for us early. Hopefully we can continue it.”

The Rays have won 16 of 20 at home against the Orioles.

Baltimore (0-2) has been dismal in the clutch in this series,

going 3 for 21 with runners in scoring position.

“We came up a little short,” manager Dave Trembley said. “We

didn’t win the game. It wasn’t because we did anything wrong. The

other team won.”

Leadoff batter Brian Roberts could still be feeling the effects

of a slightly herniated disc in his back that limited him to six

spring-training games. He is hitless in his first 10 at-bats and

has stranded eight runners.

Jeff Niemann went 13-6 with a 3.94 ERA for Tampa Bay as a rookie

last season, leading the staff in wins and complete games. The

right-hander was particularly effective at home, going 6-2 with a

3.05 ERA in 12 starts.

Niemann is 2-2 with a 6.75 ERA in five starts against the

Orioles in 2009, giving up 10 runs and 17 hits over 7 2-3 innings

in the past two.

Roberts is 8 for 18 with two homers and four doubles against

Niemann while Matt Wieters is 5 for 7.

Brian Matusz will try to follow Kevin Millwood and Jeremy

Guthrie and provide the Orioles with another strong outing from a

starting pitcher.

Matusz begins his first full major league season after going 5-2

with a 4.63 ERA in eight starts in 2009.

An early favorite for Rookie of the Year, the left-hander was by

far Baltimore’s best pitcher during the spring, posting a 2.59 ERA

while striking out 21 and walking three in 24 1-3 innings.

“If you saw Matusz, you would think Matusz had pitched in the

big leagues for 10 years, he didn’t blink,” Trembley told the

Orioles’ Web site.

Matusz won his only start against the Rays on Aug. 20, allowing

four runs and seven hits in 5 1-3 innings.