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04/08/10 1:35 AM ET

Young guns face off as Rays look to sweep

By Bailey Stephens/MLB.com

Oh, the difference a year makes.

While Brian Matusz and Jeff Niemann, the Orioles and Rays starters for the finale of the three-game series on Thursday, are both highly regarded young former first-round Draft picks, they start 2010 with one major difference: Niemann has a full season of Major League service under his belt.

Matusz, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft, sailed to the big leagues, making his debut last August.

"It's going to be tough with the nerves," Matusz said. "I'm going to be really nervous and anxious tomorrow, but for me it's just a matter of relaxing and treating it like any other game."

The rookie has no reason not to feel confident as he is coming off a very strong showing this spring.

"For me, it's all about getting in a good groove," Matusz said. "My last few starts of spring I was in that groove. It's all about finding that consistent windup, that good consistent windup. When I get in the groove, I just roll with it, I keep it going. Right now I feel like I'm in it."

Niemann knows firsthand the pressure facing a young hurler in the first start of the season. In his season debut in 2009 against the very same Orioles, he allowed five runs in the first inning at Camden Yards.

"Hopefully, it won't be a repeat performance," Niemann said. "[I'm] looking for that not to happen."

Niemann, the No. 4 overall pick in 2004, took a more winding road to the Majors than his counterpart, being delayed by mechanical issues likely brought on by his height -- Niemann stands at 6'9". His slow start last year eventually turned into a season in which he led the Rays in wins with 13. As a result, he sees himself as a much different pitcher than a year ago.

"I'm a lot different," he said. "I learned a lot last year as a pitcher. Learned what worked, what didn't work by trial and error. Learn from your mistakes and keep going."

Orioles: Offense sluggish early
After dropping another close game on Wednesday night, the Orioles find themselves at risk of being swept to start the season, a fate they last suffered in 2007, when they dropped the first three against the Twins. The offense with men in scoring position was an issue for the second straight night as the O's tallied seven men left on base and went 2-for-9 with RISP. Brian Roberts again went hitless. The second baseman, recovering from a back ailment, hasn't recorded a hit in 10 at bats thus far, leaving six men on base.

Rays: Longoria starting strong
Evan Longoria continues to be a difference-maker at the plate for the Rays, accounting for three of the Rays' four runs in Wednesday's 4-3 win. His second home run of the year -- a solo shot in the eighth inning -- gave the Rays a key insurance run in the tight victory.

Worth Noting
Matusz did face the Rays once last season and picked up the win, despite allowing a three-run home run to Ben Zobrist. ... Despite struggling in an exhibition game last week against the Rays' Triple-A Durham team, Niemann had a strong spring, going 3-0 with a 2.94 ERA in Grapefruit League competition. ... Rafael Soriano recorded his first save with the Rays on Wednesday night, in spite of giving up an RBI double to Garrett Atkins in the ninth inning.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.