Rays-Blue Jays Preview
By PAUL DIGIACOMO
(AP) -- Tampa Bay certainly saw enough of Ricky Romero last season. Familiarity, however, didn't breed much success for the Rays when facing the Toronto Blue Jays' left-hander.
Romero is scheduled to make his sixth start in the past year against Tampa Bay when these AL East rivals open a three-game series at Rogers Centre on Tuesday night.
Romero faced the Rays a total of five times in 2009 and 2010, going 2-2 with a 4.45 ERA. He made that many starts alone against them last season and posted a 2.02 ERA, winning three times as the Blue Jays recorded just six victories in 18 meetings.
Tampa Bay's Ben Zobrist, Desmond Jennings, Evan Longoria, Sean Rodriguez and Matt Joyce hit .088 (5 for 57) with 14 strikeouts versus Romero in 2011. Newcomers Carlos Pena and Luke Scott are a combined 2 for 22 with eight strikeouts when stepping into the batter's box against him.
The Rays (5-5) may continue to struggle Tuesday considering the way Romero has pitched to begin this season. He's gone 1-0 with a 3.38 ERA over his first two starts, beating Boston 3-1 on Wednesday after allowing one run and three hits over 8 1-3 innings.
Tampa Bay's offense hasn't hit its stride yet, but the visiting Rays didn't need much Monday as they beat the Red Sox 1-0 to avoid a four-game sweep and fifth consecutive loss.
James Shields allowed four hits in 8 1-3 innings, and Tampa Bay's only run came when Longoria walked on four pitches with the bases loaded in the seventh.
The Rays scored 15 runs in their first two games but have 23 in their last eight.
"We absolutely needed something like that today. James did not disappoint," said manager Joe Maddon, who earned his 500th win with the Rays. "I really liked the bounce back (at) 11 o'clock in the morning. After losing three games in a row here, a lot of teams would give up at that point. Our guys didn't."
Toronto (5-4) avoided a three-game sweep at home with a 9-2 win over Baltimore on Sunday, setting season highs for runs and hits with 13. The Blue Jays, who have also been struggling offensively, scored seven times in the sixth inning.
"Everyone swung the bats well today," third baseman Brett Lawrie, who went 2 for 4 with three RBIs and hit his first homer, told the Blue Jays' official website.
"It was a good breath of fresh air. ... It was just good to put some (insurance) runs up there and finish it off."
Toronto will try to build on that performance Tuesday against Jeff Niemann (0-1, 5.40 ERA). The right-hander had a 6.35 ERA in three starts versus Toronto last season, with Jose Bautista going 2 for 3 with a homer and a double and Adam Lind 3 for 5 with a home run.
Lind is 11 for 26 (.423) with two homers, two doubles and a triple against Niemann, who will be making his second start after allowing three runs over five innings of a 7-2 loss at Detroit on Thursday.
Niemann is 3-1 in six starts at Rogers Centre despite having a 5.21 ERA.
"We're pretty familiar with Toronto," Niemann said. "We know what they're trying to do, so it will be important for us to go out there and set the tone in Game 1 up there. (I want to) give the team a quality outing and see how it turns out."
Updated April 16, 2012