- The Washington Times - Monday, April 14, 2008

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Jeff Niemann made quite a first impression.

Niemann allowed one run over six innings in his major league debut and B.J. Upton hit a three-run homer during a six-run fifth, helping the Tampa Bay Rays beat the Baltimore Orioles 6-2 yesterday.

“I liked the way he never lost his composure,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “He’s got a really good makeup. He pitched really well. It’s a great first step for him. He did just a wonderful job his first time out.”

Niemann, taken fourth overall in the 2004 amateur draft, was recalled from Class AAA Durham to replace the injured Matt Garza in the rotation. The 6-foot-9 right-hander gave up six hits and one walk and had five strikeouts.

“I’m sure it’s going to hit me tomorrow,” Niemann said. “I’m not sure if you can envision it like that. I just wanted to go out there, keep us in the game and give us a chance to win.”

Niemann missed time each of the previous three seasons because of problems with his throwing shoulder.

“It’s great to be here now and hopefully stay,” he said. “I’m taking nothing for granted out there.”

The Rays were held without a hit through four by Brian Burres, but they chased the left-hander with two outs in the fifth after scoring six times for a 6-0 lead. Akinori Iwamura drove in a run with single, and Carl Crawford hit a two-run single before Upton’s three-run shot on a 3-2 pitch with two outs.

“I wasn’t hitting the spots really well,” Burres said. “I didn’t get my fastball back down in the zone. They just hit the pitches that were up in the zone.”

Burres (1-1) allowed six runs and five hits in 42/3 innings. He has given up 22 earned runs over 161/3 innings in nine career appearances against Tampa Bay.

Nick Markakis hit a solo homer off Niemann in the sixth. He also drew a bases-loaded walk one inning later, when the Orioles scored just once after loading the bases with no outs.

The Orioles also loaded the bases with one out in the first but failed to score when Aubrey Huff fouled out and Luke Scott flew out to right.

“I’ll tell you what, he showed a tremendous amount of poise,” Rays catcher Mike DiFelice said. “There’s no preparation for your first big league game, especially a starting pitcher. When you get out there and you throw your first pitch, you just don’t know what you’re going to get. It’s a coin toss. I can’t say enough how he handled that first inning.”

The Orioles went 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position and left nine runners on base.

“It would have been nice to put three on the board in the first,” Orioles manager Dave Trembley said. “I think that would have set the tone for the game.”

Niemann threw 28 of his 93 pitches in the first inning.

“I really liked the breaking ball for a strike behind in the count,” Maddon said. “That’s huge. Really good pitchers are able to throw something other than a fastball in a fastball count for a strike, and that’s what he did today.”

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