ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Struggling slugger Carlos Pena homered twice and drove in five runs to back unbeaten Jeff Niemann's two-hit pitching and help the Tampa Bay Rays beat the Toronto Blue Jays 9-0 on Tuesday night.
Pena hit a solo shot and a grand slam, giving him three homers in his last two games as he tries to hit his way out of a season-long slump.
Niemann (6-0) didn't allow a runner past first base, limiting the Blue Jays to singles by Mike McCoy and Adam Lind en route to his third career shutout.
Toronto was hitless until McCoy's sharp grounder eluded third baseman Evan Longoria and shortstop Reid Brignac, who both dove but were unable to keep the ball from reaching the outfield with one out in the sixth.
Lind led off the seventh with his hit that fell in front of left fielder Gabe Kapler. Niemann, who walked one and struck out six, retired the next nine batters to end the game.
Pena entered hitting just .175, lowest in the majors among players with a qualifying number of at-bats. His solo homer off Brian Tallet (1-2) gave Tampa Bay a 1-0 lead in the fourth, and his seventh career grand slam — off another left-hander, Rommie Lewis — finished a seven-run fifth that made it 8-0.
Longoria and Willy Aybar drove in two runs apiece for the Rays, who have won 11 of 13 against the Blue Jays at Tropicana Field over the past two seasons.
The Blue Jays only managed to get two balls out of the infield against Niemann through five innings. Vernon Wells lined to Kapler to end the first, and Jose Bautista hit a routine fly to right fielder Ben Zobrist to begin the fifth.
Niemann, who won 13 games as a rookie last season, also pitched a two-hit shutout against Kansas City on June 3, 2009. Just more than a month later, he tossed a seven-hit shutout against Oakland.
Tallet pitched four-plus innings, allowing five runs and six hits in his second start — both against the Rays — since returning from a stint on the 15-day disabled list with a left forearm strain. He worked five scoreless innings against Tampa Bay on June 1, leaving with a 5-0 lead before the Rays rallied to win 7-6 in Toronto.
Pena was 2 for 17 lifetime against the Blue Jays starter before hitting his 10th homer of the season. Longoria's two-run single made it 3-0, finishing Tallet in the fifth. Aybar followed with an RBI single off Lewis before Pena's fourth grand slam with Tampa Bay — tying Zobrist for the club record.
Niemann has won seven consecutive decisions dating to last season, matching a franchise record set by Mark Hendrickson in 2005. The right-hander hasn't lost at home since May 2, 2009, against Boston, a stretch of 16 starts that's the longest active streak in the majors.
NOTES: Blue Jays SS Alex Gonzalez missed the game to take care of a personal matter. He is expected back on Wednesday. ... Rays CF B.J. Upton, hitting .229 but coming off a three-hit game against Texas, was moved into the leadoff spot for the first two games of this series. ... Toronto manager Cito Gaston said INF John McDonald could soon be placed on the bereavement list. McDonald has been away from the team for the past four games to be with his seriously ill father. ... Rays LF Carl Crawford had the night off.