Rays try to stay hot in opener with A's

The American League East-leading Tampa Bay Rays are on a roll and will shoot for a sixth straight win tonight versus the Oakland Athletics in the opener of a three-game series at Tropicana Field.

Tampa Bay is 1 1/2 games ahead of surprising Baltimore and just swept the Seattle Mariners in four games to kick off a seven-game homestand. In Thursday's 4-3 victory in the series finale, Jeff Keppinger hit a two-run homer and Desmond Jennings added a two-run triple to lead the way.

"Keppinger's homer was big, obviously, in that moment," Rays manager Joe Maddon said of the blast during a four-run second inning. "That got us going in the right direction."

Rays starter Jeff Niemann picked up the win despite allowing three runs on seven hits and two walks in 5 2/3 innings, while Fernando Rodney worked around an error in the ninth inning to earn his ninth save.

The Rays have won 11 of their last 12 games and are a sizzling 12-1 at the Trop this season.

David Price was able to keep Texas' powerful lineup in check his last time out and will try to pitch the Rays into the win column again Friday. Price posted his third consecutive winning start in a 5-2 triumph in the Lone Star State on Sunday, as he allowed two runs and six hits over 6 1/3 innings. He also struck out six batters for a second straight outing.

Price improved to 4-1 in five starts to go along with a 2.67 ERA and will put his unblemished home record on the line. The lefty is 2-0 with a solid 1.17 ERA in two trips to the Tropicana Field hill this season. In four career starts against the Athletics, Price is 1-1 with a 4.44 earned run average.

Oakland is 3-3 so far on a nine-game road trip and took the last two meetings of a three-game set in Boston.

The Athletics are coming off Wednesday's 4-2 victory over the Red Sox in which Seth Smith drove in a pair of runs and Brandon McCarthy tossed 6 2/3 solid innings. McCarthy allowed just one run on five hits with four strikeouts and three walks for his second straight win. Brian Fuentes nailed down his first save of the season in place of Grant Balfour.

"I felt like I was able to throw a lot of strikes and my command was solid," McCarthy said.

The A's have won two in a row since a three-game slide and are 7-6 as the guest this season.

Tyson Ross is getting acclimated to a starter's role and will get the nod for Oakland this evening. Ross will try to forget his last outing, a 10-1 loss at Baltimore on Saturday. He was hammered for nine runs and 11 hits in four innings to fall to 1-1 in three starts to go along with a 6.48 ERA.

Ross, a right-hander, is 0-1 in two starts this season and faced Tampa Bay once in a relief appearance.

Oakland won five of seven matchups with Tampa Bay a season ago.