I really hope Jeff Niemann has turned some kind of corner. Now that he appears to be fully healthy the Big Nyquil has been brilliantly mixing his pitches and shutting teams down in the process. I know it was only the Mariner's lineup, which makes the Rays offense look like the Red Sox in comparison, but watching Niemann break off curveball after curveball was great. If he can control that pitch it's one oft he better of its kind in baseball. He wasn't as economical with his pitches as you would have liked -- 118 in seven innings -- but kept the Mariner's from forming any type of real threat. The 11 strikeouts were a career high.
The month of July has been especially good for Niemann. He went 3-0 with a team record 1.06 ERA, 2.63 FIP/2.84 xFIP, 9.00 K/9 and 53 percent ground ball rate. His name has been mentioned in trade talks. This is the best he's ever pitched, so if a team feels like they want to overpay for pitching help, that would be nice.
Niemann's counterpart, Erik Bedard, didn't fare as well. In his first start since coming off of the DL Bedard lasted only 1.1 innings, throwing 57 pitches and allowing five runs and four walks. The scoring was confined to only the second inning, when the Rays broke out for a 2011 inning high eight runs. They sent 12 men to the plate with the results as follows:
|C. Kotchman singled to shallow left|
|- K. Shoppach struck out swinging|
|- M. Joyce walked, C. Kotchman to second|
|- S. Rodriguez walked, C. Kotchman to third, M. Joyce to second|
|- D. Jennings walked, C. Kotchman scored, M. Joyce to third, S. Rodriguez to second|
|- J. Damon singled to center, M. Joyce and S. Rodriguez scored, D. Jennings to second|
|- A. Laffey relieved E. Bedard|
|- D. Jennings to third, J. Damon to second on balk|
|- E. Longoria grounded out to shortstop, D. Jennings scored, J. Damon to third|
|- B. Zobrist homered to deep right, J. Damon scored|
|- B.J. Upton walked|
|- C. Kotchman doubled to shallow right, B.J. Upton scored|
|- K. Shoppach singled to right, C. Kotchman scored|
|- M. Joyce struck out swinging|
Ben Zobrist has had one hell of a July. As impressive as Niemann has been on the mound, Zobrist may be having an even better month. He's hitting .325/.451/.602 with a .458 wOBA and five home runs. He also has the fourth highest WAR among hitters in all of baseball. But some in the area feel Kyle Farnsworth is the team MVP. Sigh.