Blue Jays-Rays Preview

Whether the Tampa Bay Rays can finally break their deadlock atop

the AL East might depend on how well Jeff Niemann gets past his

miserable return from the disabled list.

The right-hander will try to do just that while helping the Rays

continue their recent home dominance of the Toronto Blue Jays on

Tuesday night.

For the eighth consecutive day, Tampa Bay (81-50) kept pace with

New York in its division thanks to a 6-2 victory in Monday’s opener

of a three-game set. Carlos Pena homered for the second straight

game, drove in four runs and the Rays took advantage of three

errors during their 22nd win in 27 home matchups against Toronto


Tampa Bay, who moved seven games up on a playoff spot, has also

won 12 of 16 overall and 22 of 28 at Tropicana Field.

“Our guys are so good about being ready right now,” manager Joe

Maddon said. “You come into the dugout before the game and you

could feel the intensity of the group. I wasn’t concerned. I really

thought we were ready to play and obviously we were.”

Niemann (10-4, 3.67 ERA) will try to keep his team rolling but

will likely need a better performance than in a 12-3 road loss to

the Angels on Wednesday. After missing three weeks with a strained

pitching shoulder, the right-hander didn’t make it out of the

fourth inning while giving up a career-worst 10 runs, eight hits

and three walks.

“I didn’t do what I wanted to do with the ball, and they hit

everything I left over the plate. The walks didn’t help,” said

Niemann, who had never previously been on the DL. “Now we’ve got to

go back to the drawing board and figure out what’s going on. I’ve

just got to work hard and see what we can do. But I was just really

excited to get back out there.”

While trying to help his team clinch its third straight winning

season, Niemann will try to quickly regain the form he showed in

his only complete game this season, a two-hitter at home against

Toronto on June 8. He’s 1-0 with a 3.27 ERA in three starts this

season versus the Blue Jays and 3-1 with a 4.04 ERA in six career


The Rays could give him some help as they’re a major league-best

31-14 against left-handed starters and will face southpaw Ricky

Romero (10-8, 3.54) on Tuesday.

Romero enters this game after giving up six runs – three earned

– and a season high-tying five walks over 5 2-3 innings of

Thursday’s 7-1 loss to Detroit. He was sick with strep throat in

the two days before that outing.

“I don’t want to use the whole I was sick excuse because I felt

great,” Romero said.

Romero is 1-1 with a 2.57 ERA in three career starts against the

Rays but did not get a decision in a 9-3 loss April 24 at Tropicana

Field, allowing two runs over seven innings while pitching opposite


Pena is 1 for 6 with two strikeouts against Romero, while Evan

Longoria, who has 16 RBIs in 16 games, is 3 for 6.

Major league home run leader Jose Bautista is 1 for 11 with four

strikeouts against Niemann.