The Rays will send Jeff Niemann up against Cleveland's Justin Masterson in Sunday's finale, and they've got to feel confident about their first-half performance. They have the second-best record in baseball, behind their American League East rivals, the Yankees. Tampa Bay will be represented at the Midsummer Classic by four All-Stars, the second-highest total in the team's young history.
And when Niemann describes his own season, he may as well be talking about his entire team.
"I think everything's gone pretty well. We've kind of accomplished what we've set out to do," said Niemann. "I feel good. I still feel strong, still feel like I'm getting better each time out there. And I'm trying to keep everything rolling."
Things haven't gone quite as smoothly for Cleveland, which has been without franchise talent Grady Sizemore since mid-May. The Indians already have six rookies on their team and the second-youngest 25-man roster (27.89 years) in baseball, but chances are that they will call up even more youngsters during the second half in order to gauge their progress.
"You've got to continue to teach," said Cleveland manager Manny Acta. "Regardless of who you've got on your roster, it's an ongoing preaching and teaching. These kids are getting very valuable experience up here, and our coaching staff has to continue to stay positive and teach these guys while competing at this level. That's something coming in we knew we had to do."
And that means, in a nutshell, that the Indians' older players should be on notice. Cleveland has already traded Russell Branyan and released Mark Grudzielanek, providing a clear blueprint for the team's intentions in the second half.
"I think we went out there and got these veteran players," said Acta of his team's aspirations, "because we felt like our division, with the way it is, if we would have had our full team, maybe we had a chance to compete. But that's not the case right now. It's an opportunity for us to have a youth movement. We all knew this was coming at some point."
Indians: Masterson looking for control
Masterson has had an erratic season thus far, a run illustrated by his last two outings. The right-hander gave up seven earned runs in his most recent outing. In the turn before that, he pitched into the ninth inning and held the Blue Jays to one run. Masterson is 1-3 with a 6.33 ERA against Tampa Bay in his career, and he's 1-5 with a 6.70 ERA on the road this year.
And as the Indians reach the tape in the first half, they do so with their offense on a roll. Cleveland has won eight of its previous 14 games, swatting 20 home runs and scoring 56 runs during that span. The Indians, in fact, have homered in 16 of their past 20 games and in 25 of their past 32, and they'll hope that their power stroke doesn't dissolve over the All-Star break.
Rays: Niemann trying to rebound
Niemann, who ranks fourth in the AL in ERA, will be making his 50th career start on Sunday. The towering right-hander has lost two of his previous three decisions, but Tampa Bay has gone 10-2 in his past 12 starts. The Rays were in first place for 67 days this season and will open up their second half with the Yankees, providing a suitable incentive.
"Go out there and try to finish the first half strong and end with a win for the team," said Niemann, succinctly summarizing his strategy for his final start of the first half. "Then relax for a few days and be ready for the second half."
Tampa Bay's rotation will look like this after the All-Star break: James Shields, Niemann and David Price against the Yankees, followed by Wade Davis and Matt Garza against the Orioles. ... The Indians designated veteran catcher Mike Redmond for assignment on Saturday night and recalled Chris Gimenez from Triple-A Columbus to take his spot. ... Carl Crawford served as designated hitter on Saturday due to a sore left shoulder. He may reprise the role on Sunday. ... Cleveland shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, currently sidelined by a broken left forearm, appears to be on target for a Minor League rehab assignment starting Monday.
Sun, 7/11 1:40 PM ET
Bartlett lifts Rays over Tribe in extras
Jason Bartlett singled in Carl Crawford, who cranked his third homer of the series, in the 10th inning to give the Rays a walk-off win over the Indians. Austin Kearns had two RBIs and scored a run for Cleveland.
|Nix, J, 2B||4||1||0||0||0||1||1||.204|
|Santana, C, DH||5||1||2||0||0||1||0||.284|
|Marte, A, 3B||4||1||1||0||0||1||2||.185|
|Gimenez, C, C||3||0||0||0||0||3||1||.000|
|Hernandez, A, SS||4||0||1||0||0||0||2||.228|
|Pena, C, 1B||4||0||0||0||1||2||5||.203|
|Upton, B, CF||4||1||1||1||0||1||3||.230|
|Rodriguez, S, 2B-RF||5||0||0||0||0||2||4||.265|
1-Ran for Pena, C in the 9th.
2B: Santana, C (12, Niemann), LaPorta (7, Niemann), Hernandez, A (3, Niemann), Crowe (10, Benoit).
TB: Santana, C 3; Kearns 2; LaPorta 2; Marte, A; Crowe 3; Hernandez, A 2.
RBI: Kearns 2 (38), LaPorta (18), Crowe (20).
Runners left in scoring position, 2 out: Crowe; Nix, J; Kearns; Brantley; Gimenez, C.
SAC: Gimenez, C.
GIDP: Hernandez, A.
Team RISP: 3-for-11.
Team LOB: 6.
SB: Santana, C (1, 2nd base off Niemann/Jaso).
E: Marte, A (6, throw).
DP: (Marte, A-Nix, J-LaPorta).
2B: Upton, B (21, Masterson), Joyce (3, Masterson).
HR: Crawford (11, 5th inning off Masterson, 1 on, 0 out).
TB: Zobrist; Crawford 5; Longoria 3; Bartlett; Joyce 2; Jaso; Upton, B 2; Brignac.
RBI: Brignac (25), Crawford 2 (50), Upton, B (31), Bartlett (33).
2-out RBI: Brignac.
Runners left in scoring position, 2 out: Brignac; Pena, C; Longoria; Rodriguez, S 2.
SF: Upton, B.
Team RISP: 4-for-13.
Team LOB: 15.
SB: Crawford (31, 2nd base off Wood, K/Gimenez, C), Zobrist 2 (19, 2nd base off Perez, R/Gimenez, C, 2nd base off Perez, C/Gimenez, C).
E: Rodriguez, S (2, missed catch).
DP: (Rodriguez, S-Brignac-Pena, C).
|Wood, K(L, 1-4)||0.1||2||1||1||1||0||0||6.30|
IBB: Jaso (by Masterson), Longoria (by Perez, R), Longoria (by Wood, K).
HBP: Nix, J (by Niemann).
Pitches-strikes: Masterson 100-59, Perez, R 30-14, Smith, J 3-3, Perez, C 26-14, Ambriz 21-10, Wood, K 18-11, Niemann 70-45, Wheeler 16-10, Choate 4-2, Balfour 13-8, Benoit 18-11, Soriano, R 10-6, Sonnanstine 16-10.
Groundouts-flyouts: Masterson 9-4, Perez, R 2-1, Smith, J 0-0, Perez, C 1-0, Ambriz 1-1, Wood, K 1-0, Niemann 6-3, Wheeler 2-0, Choate 1-0, Balfour 0-1, Benoit 0-0, Soriano, R 1-1, Sonnanstine 0-1.
Batters faced: Masterson 26, Perez, R 7, Smith, J 1, Perez, C 5, Ambriz 6, Wood, K 4, Niemann 22, Wheeler 5, Choate 1, Balfour 3, Benoit 4, Soriano, R 3, Sonnanstine 3.
Inherited runners-scored: Choate 1-0.
Umpires: HP: Scott Barry. 1B: Mike DiMuro. 2B: Jim Reynolds. 3B: Tim Welke.
Weather: 72 degrees, dome.
Compiled by MLB Advanced Media