Burly right-hander Jeff Niemann can make it two straight mound gems for the Tampa Bay Rays today when they go for the series victory against the Minnesota Twins in the finale of a three-game set at Tropicana Field.
The Rays got eight-plus innings from workhorse James Shields in Saturday's second game on the way to a 4-1 win.
Shields (3-0) gave up just one run on five hits with two walks and seven strikeouts. B.J. Upton hit a two-run single while Evan Longoria also drove in a run in the win for the Rays, who have won three of their last four.
Carl Pavano (1-2) gave up three runs - two earned - on seven hits with two walks and seven strikeouts in six innings of work for the Twins, who have lost six of nine.
"They made (Pavano) work," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He gave us a great chance to win. it was just the other guy on the other side that didn't let us do anything."
Ryan Doumit drove in the lone run of the game for Minnesota.
Niemann, a 6-foot-9, 260-pounder, hasn't gone past five innings in either of his 2012 outings, pitching exactly 10 innings and allowing eight runs in consecutive losses at Detroit and at Toronto.
The 29-year-old has struck out 11 batters and walked just three in the two starts and allowed opponents just a .189 batting average, more than 60 points below his career mark of .253.
He has had past success against Minnesota, winning all three decisions in six appearances with a 2.86 earned run average across 34 2/3 innings.
The Twins go with former prospect Francisco Liriano, who's been largely inconsistent since a breakout season in 2006.
The 28-year-old lefty won 12 times and posted a 2.16 ERA in 121 innings in his initial stint as a full-time big leaguer, but had arm trouble soon after that cost him the entire 2007 season and saw him combine for just 11 wins in 2008-09.
He returned to go 14-10 with Minnesota in 2010, but slumped back to 9-10 in 26 appearances with a 5.09 ERA last season.
In three starts this April, he's been raked for 17 runs in 22 hits in just 11 1/3 innings while losing decisions at Baltimore and New York and getting no verdict after a five-inning stint against Los Angeles.
He's split four decisions in seven career starts against Tampa Bay.
The Rays went 7-3 versus the Twins last season.