ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Jeff Niemann took a shutout into the eighth inning, Evan Longoria had a homer and four RBIs, and the Tampa Bay Rays beat the Los Angeles Angels 7-2 on Tuesday night in Scott Kazmir's first start against his former team.
The Rays improved their major league-best record to 23-10 and increased their AL East lead over the Yankees to a full game after New York was rained out in Detroit. The victory was only their second in 16 games at Anaheim since former Angels bench coach Joe Maddon became Tampa Bay's manager.
Niemann (3-0) was charged with two runs and six hits over 7 1-3 innings, struck out four and stranded a runner in scoring position in each of the first three innings before handing a 6-0 lead over to the bullpen. The 6-foot-9 right-hander has pitched at least seven innings in five of his last six starts, and came within one out of doing so the other time.
Niemann departed after giving up a leadoff single to Brandon Wood and a one-out walk to Bobby Abreu. Torii Hunter greeted Lance Cormier with an RBI single, and Kendry Morales singled to load the bases.
Randy Choate came in and walked Hideki Matsui on four pitches to force in a a run, but Grant Balfour restored order by striking out Howie Kendrick and retiring Michael Ryan on a fielder's choice grounder.
Kazmir (2-3) threw 108 pitches in five innings, allowing three runs and seven hits with two strikeouts and three walks. The two-time All-Star has failed to reach the seventh in any of his six starts this season, after spending the first two weeks on the disabled list because of a right hamstring strain that interrupted his spring training regimen.
Kazmir, Tampa Bay's career leader in wins, starts, innings, and strikeouts, was traded to the Angels last August 28 for three players. One of those players, second baseman Sean Rodriguez, was 2 for 4 with a double and scored the game's first run in the third inning on the first of Carl Crawford's three consecutive singles.
The next batter, No. 3 hitter Ben Zobrist, laid down a squeeze bunt to the right of the mound and was thrown out by Kazmir as Jason Bartlett crossed the plate.
Longoria made it 3-0 with a two-out RBI single in the fifth, then doubled the margin in the seventh with his eighth homer after Scot Shields relieved Trevor Bell with two men on and no outs.
NOTES: Opposing batters are 0 for 12 against Niemann with two outs and a runner in scoring position. ... Kazmir is 4-5 with a 4.05 ERA in 12 starts since joining the Angels. RHP Wade Davis, who replaced Kazmir in the Rays' rotation after the trade, is 5-4 with a 3.46 ERA in 12 starts since his promotion from Triple-A Durham last September. ... Rays 1B Carlos Pena, who has only one hit in his last 40 at-bats and is hitting just .179, didn't start but came in as a defensive replacement in the seventh. In three-plus seasons with the Rays, Pena has 121 homers and 345 RBIs, but only a .247 average. ... The Angels are 0-17 when trailing after seven innings. ... Brian Fuentes' blown save in Monday night's 11-inning, 5-4 Angels victory was the second of his career with a three-run lead. The other was on May 30, 2009, when he gave up a three-run homer to Seattle's Jose Lopez in the ninth inning before the Halos lost it in the 10th.