Athletics-Rays Preview

The Tampa Bay Rays have won five of their last seven games,

scoring at least seven runs in each of those victories.

With the way Jeff Niemann’s pitched lately, they might only need

a run or two Friday night.

Coming off a brilliant July with an ERA hovering around 1.00,

Niemann looks to continue his dominance in August when the Rays

open this three-game set with the visiting Oakland Athletics.

Tampa Bay (58-52) came out of the All-Star break with a 9-6 win

over Boston but never cracked the five-run mark in any of its next

12 games.

The tail end of that stretch included three consecutive losses

in Oakland, but the Rays broke out of their slump with a 10-8 win

over the A’s on July 28.

They’ve kept up that good work at the plate over the past week –

particularly in the clutch. Tampa Bay is hitting .391 (18 for 46)

with men on second or third in its past five wins while totaling 42

runs.

The Rays had three hits with runners in scoring position in

extra innings alone – rallying three times – during a wild

12-inning series finale Thursday against Toronto, the last of which

was a single by rookie Robinson Chirinos that provided a 7-6

victory.

Fellow rookie Desmond Jennings homered to extend the game in the

10th and doubled in the 11th, giving him 17 hits in 48 at-bats

(.354) since debuting this season – nine of which have gone for

extra-bases.

“Those guys are showing they definitely belong in the big

leagues,” designated hitter Johnny Damon said.

Niemann (5-4, 3.51 ERA) has made 74 major league starts, but

he’s never had a month as good as the one he just finished. The

6-foot-9 right-hander held Seattle to three hits over 6 2-3 innings

in an 8-0 victory last Friday, lowering his ERA for July to 1.06 –

a club record for any month.

He’s 4-0 with a 1.88 ERA in seven starts since coming off the

disabled list from a lower back strain that cost him six weeks.

“Ever since I came back off the DL, I’ve wanted to get back and

contribute to this team,” said Niemann, who had a 5.74 ERA before

the injury. “I didn’t get off to a great start.”

Niemann is 1-3 with a 4.29 ERA in six home starts, but he has

fared awfully well in two outings at Tropicana Field against the

A’s (49-62). He’s won them both with a 1.59 ERA, including a

seven-hit shutout July 10, 2009.

Oakland took two of three at home against Minnesota after the

Rays left town last week, but its nine-game road trip got off to an

ugly start. The A’s were swept in Seattle to begin August, allowing

the last-place Mariners to pull within a half-game of them after

falling 7-4 on Wednesday.

Oakland is 7-29 on the road after starting the season 11-9

there.

“We’re frustrated,” third baseman Scott Sizemore said. “You

never want to come in here and lose three in a row, especially when

you feel like we’re playing pretty good baseball.”

The A’s should get help Friday, however, as outfielder David

DeJesus (sore thumb) and shortstop Cliff Pennington (Bell’s Palsy)

are expected back after brief absences.

Guillermo Moscoso (4-5, 3.41) takes the mound looking to build

on his best outing since the break. After giving up 12 runs in 9

2-3 innings in his previous two outings, Moscoso held the Twins to

two runs over 6 1-3 in an 8-3 win Saturday.

Moscoso didn’t receive a decision after giving up five runs and

eight hits – including homers to Ben Zobrist and Kelly Shoppach –

in five innings of a 7-5 win over Tampa Bay on July 25.