SEATTLE (AP) — Jeff Niemann pitched four-hit ball into the seventh inning, Carl Crawford finished a triple short of the cycle and the Tampa Bay Rays beat the Seattle Mariners 8-0 on Thursday night for a three-game sweep.
Niemann (2-0) overcame a second-inning anomaly of throwing 11 straight balls, to help keep Tampa Bay rolling on the best start in club history. Tampa Bay won its fourth straight and ninth in 11 games and is 12-1 on the road.
The Mariners lost their sixth straight — swept by the Rangers and Rays — and placed starting left fielder Milton Bradley on the restricted list while he deals with personal issues.
Bradley was placed on the restricted list before Thursday's game and is unavailable to the Mariners for at least five days and likely much longer as he gets help for his issues.
The problem for the rest of the Mariners is an offense that's scored nine runs in six games, punctuated by the second shutout in a week.
Aside from a befuddling second inning, Niemann was dominant. From the third inning on, the big right-hander allowed just three baserunners and set down 14 of the final 17 batters he faced. Niemann pitched into the seventh for the fifth straight start and hasn't allowed more than three earned runs in any start this season. He struck out six and walked two.
Joaquin Benoit worked the eighth and Andy Sonnanstine the ninth to complete the four-hitter.
Niemann's second inning left everyone scratching their heads. After getting two strikeouts to open the frame, Niemman gave up a two-out hit to Jose Lopez.
Suddenly he couldn't throw a strike. He walked Ryan Langerhans and Josh Wilson on eight pitches and went to a 3-0 count on Rob Johnson before throwing a strike. Niemann eventually got Johnson looking on a 3-2 pitch.
Tampa Bay's offense knocked out Seattle starter Ryan Rowland-Smith. Ben Zobrist laid down a perfect squeeze bunt to score Jason Barlett, who doubled to open the inning. Evan Longoria extended his hitting streak to 12 games with an RBI double and Aybar had his second RBI hit to cap the inning.
B.J. Upton also added an RBI double in the second and scored twice for Tampa Bay.
Rowland-Smith (0-2) failed to make it through the fifth, battered for six runs and seven hits in his shortest outing of the season. He's given up at least five earned runs in consecutive starts.
NOTES: The Rays are one of only four teams since 1961 to start 12-1 or better on the road. ... Injured Mariners LHP Erik Bedard threw a pain-free bullpen session on Wednesday and is expected to throw a simulated game either Monday or Tuesday. Bedard is recovering from left shoulder surgery. ... Snell threw 3 1-3 innings of relief, his first appearance out of the bullpen since Aug. 12, 2005 while with Pittsburgh.