RHP Jeff Niemann feels he has improved with each start, and that's a good trend heading into tonight's game with the Rangers, since he has not fared well against the two-time defending American League champions.
Niemann is 0-2 with a 10.66 ERA in three appearances. He's lost both of his starts and has a 7.25 ERA in those outings.
"That's definitely a quality lineup 1 through 9," Niemann said.
It's the type of lineup that can get into a pitcher's head.
"A little bit," Niemann said. "I think it's more the anxiety before the game starts. Once the game starts, you forget about everything, you're focused on pitch one, pitch two, etc. It's just getting out there and throwing quality pitches and letting things happen, not trying to do too much."
That, manager Joe Maddon said, is the only way Niemann can reverse his luck against David Murphy (.667 vs. Niemann), Michael Young (.444), Mike Napoli (.417), Adrian Beltre (.316) and company.
"With Jeff, it's like any other team he pitches against, I think that if he establishes his fastball down in the strike zone with the good angle and throws his breaking ball for strikes, which he's capable of, I just think what he needs to do is what he normally does," Maddon said. "I think maybe sometimes we try to get too creative because we're playing against a certain group of hitters or teams. I would always much prefer that our pitchers pitch their game first and not try to adjust to their hitters."
The Rangers, though, have the type of offense that can take a pitcher out of his game plan.
"And it should not," Maddon said. "I think more than anything you should stay within your game plan against a good team, because at the end of the day, your best chance to beat them is being you first. If you go out there with a lesser version of you based on all these adaptations you want to make versus a better team, more than likely it's not going to be successful."
C Chris Gimenez has started six of the 12 games the Rays have played since he was recalled from Triple-A Durham, and he is glad for the opportunity.
"I'm not saying I'm going to be an All-Star, but I always felt like I could be a decent player if I got a chance to play a little bit, because it's tough, it's tough at any level if you don't play very often," Gimenez said.
He entered Friday's game batting .313 and drove in a run with a third-inning single.
Maddon has been impressed.
"He's actually done better here, calling good games. He's blocking well, throwing well. His at-bats have been better. He's swinging a better bat now than he had in spring training," Maddon said.
Despite that, Maddon said he is sticking with the 50/50 platoon of Gimenez and C Jose Molina.
"No, I think it's always wise to stay with the plan unless you see something that absolutely indicates that you have to do something else, and I haven't seen anything to indicate otherwise," Maddon said.
According to Elias, Brandon Allen is the first player to hit a walk-off pinch-hit homer in his first at-bat with a team since Cleveland's Jamie Quirk on Sept. 27, 1984. … Thursday's walk-off win was the 10th in the past 39 home games.