PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. (AP) - Jeff Niemann's unimpressive pitching line wasn't all his doing.
Tampa Bay's No. 4 starter allowed five runs and nine hits in six innings of a 9-5 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates, however some sloppy defense also contributed to his undoing Friday.
``It was a little messy out there, but it happens,' Niemann said. ``It's good to go through that in the spring. I felt like we kept it together pretty well out there on the mound to make pitches.'
The 6-foot-9 right-hander struck out six and walked none. He hurt his cause with a second-inning wild pitch that allowed Pittsburgh's second run to score.
Nevertheless, Niemann and manager Joe Maddon felt the 106-pitch outing was not nearly as bad as the statistics might suggest.
``We didn't play well. You can't really evaluate what he did,' Maddon said. ``Overall, I thought he pitched well.'
Justin Ruggiano had two hits and drove in three runs, delivering a two-run single off Joel Hanrahan to snap a sixth-inning tie and adding a RBI triple in the eighth.
Pirates starter Charlie Morton yielded five runs, five hits and walked three in five innings. Manager Clint Hurdle was encouraged by the performance, noting the numbers could have been much worse if the right-hander had not been able to work through a couple of tight spots.
The Rays scored twice in the fifth, when Morton hit Evan Longoria with a pitch with the bases loaded, then walked Manny Ramirez to drive in another run.
What Hurdle liked is his pitcher settled to get the final two outs and strand the remaining three base runners with the score tied.
``I'm glad that he had to grind. I'm glad he put himself in a position where he had to find a way out without caving in,' Hurdle said. ``I would have liked to have seen more pitches thrown. He got to 80 in five innings. But he had to figure some things out without his best stuff, so that could bode well.'
Pittsburgh's Josh Rodriguez had a two-run single off Niemann. Norton and Ryan Doumit also drove in runs for the Pirates.
Niemann, 12-8 with a 4.39 ERA in 2010, likely will make one more start in preparation for the regular season.
``I feel like this was a good spring. Built up each time. Kind of got better each time out,' Niemann said.
``I felt great about today. The curveball and the slider were both there. ... The fastball was a little bit up, but those are adjustments that are easier to make than the breaking ball stuff. I felt really good.'
NOTES: Rays relievers Kyle Farnsworth and Juan Cruz each worked one scoreless inning in a minor league game. Farnsworth hyperextended his left knee against the Yankees on Monday and aggravated the injury in a brief appearance against the Astros on Thursday. Maddon said initial reports were favorable Friday. ``I haven't heard anything specifically, except everybody was healthy and came out of it well,' the manager said. ... Tampa Bay made two cuts, optioning RHP Rob Delaney to the minor leagues and reassigning RHP Cory Wade to minor league camp. ... Rays C John Jaso, sidelined since being struck in the groin by a foul tip, was behind the plate for the two innings.
The Associated Press News Service
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