Daily Process: Rays Win Again, Jeff Niemann Looks Normal | The Process Report

Daily Process: Rays Win Again, Jeff Niemann Looks Normal

For the first time this season, Jeff Niemann looked like himself. Niemann’s game is control and arsenal depth and he flashed both. When at his best, Niemann gets ahead with his fastball and then mixes his offerings to put batters away. A good example of this came in the first at-bat of the game. Up 0-2 on Denard Span, Niemann buried a curve and watched as Span swung through it.

A not-so-good example was in the second inning. Again, Niemann got to a two-strike count (1-2) and mixed a high heater, low curve, and then another high fastball against Jason Kubel. Niemann missed his spot on the last pitch and Kubel drove it for a home run. The Twins hit a few other balls on a line today, one that B.J. Upton misplayed into a triple, but the big guy pitched fine.

Offensively, Casey Kotchman, John Jaso, and Matt Joyce each reached base multiple times.

Kotchman singled in the second and later collected a walk. The hit was a grounder, naturally, but probably his hardest hit worm beater of the season. Kotchman later walked against Scott Baker, as the mini-version of Niemann endured a random bout of wildness, and versus Joe Nathan after first attempting a sacrifice bunt. On the paths, Kotchman was able to go first-to-third on two hit-and-runs with John Jaso. He also scored on a ball to left field and drew a Delmon Young throw, allowing for Jaso to advance.

This is probably going to be the best game of Kotchman’s career with the Rays and proves there is an inverse relationship between how often he swings and how easy it is to endure his plate appearances.

The bottom of the ninth played out weirdly. Ben Zobrist led off with a game-tying homer. After B.J. Upton and Kotchman walked, Joe Maddon elected to have John Jaso attempt his own bunt. It failed, and Jaso would fly out. With Reid Brignac due up, Ron Gardenhire went to lefty Jose Mijares. Maddon had all his right-handed options available (Sean Rodriguez, Kelly Shoppach, and Elliot Johnson) and pressed the Johnson button.

Obviously I can’t be sure, but Johnson seems like the least likely of the three to strikeout. In that scenario –Upton on second and only one run needed—a non-infield single is as valuable as a double, triple, or home run. Johnson struck out, killing whatever theory there was. After Sam Fuld walked, Johnny Damon lined a pitch into right field, ending the game and giving him yet another notch on the belt.

There’s no mistaking it: Johnson is a worse hitter than Shoppach or Rodriguez, but given the context, I can understand wanting someone with more contact abilities. Of course, if that wasn’t the thinking, then yeah, there’s a problem with it and Shoppach or Rodriguez should’ve been inserted.

The Rays have now won five-straight and go for the sweep with Jeremy Hellickson on the mound tomorrow. He will be opposed by a lefty, and the Rays lineups versus southpaws are brutal at the moment, so who knows.