SEATTLE (AP) -Jeff Niemann is just trying to keep up with the rest of the Tampa Bay rotation.
Niemann pitched four-hit ball into the seventh inning, Carl Crawford finished a triple short of the cycle and the Tampa Bay Rays beat the Seattle Mariners 8-0 on Thursday night for a three-game sweep.
Niemann (2-0) overcame a strange loss of control in the second inning, throwing 11 straight balls when his fastball went wild, to help keep Tampa Bay rolling to the best start in club history. Tampa Bay won its fourth straight and ninth in 11 games and is 12-1 on the road.
Niemann's seven shutout innings lowered his ERA to 2.23. He's one of four Rays' pitchers among the top 12 in ERA in the AL.
``It's awesome to be a part of, awesome to be around,' he said. It's pretty impressive what is going on.'
But he couldn't find the strike zone for 2 1/2 batters in the second, only to recover and strike out Seattle's Rob Johnson with the bases loaded to end Seattle's only threat.
``If you start thinking too much you start digging yourself a really deep hole,' Niemann said. ``You try and address it the best way you can, but at the same time you still have to go out there and throw. It's a fine line.'
Aside from that befuddling inning, Niemann was dominant. From the third inning on, the big right-hander set down 14 of the final 17 batters. Niemann pitched into the seventh for the fifth straight start and hasn't allowed more than three earned runs in any start this season. He struck out six and walked two.
Joaquin Benoit worked the eighth and Andy Sonnanstine the ninth to complete the four-hitter.
``Right now, we're going to ride this as long as we can,' Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said. ``Obviously, the starting pitching has been fabulous. ... I believe we can play to this standard for a long time.'
The Mariners troubling homestand continued. They have lost six straight and before Thursday night's game placed starting left fielder Milton Bradley on the restricted list while he deals with personal issues.
Bradley is unavailable to the Mariners for at least five days and likely much longer.
The problem for the rest of the Mariners is an offense that's scored nine runs in six games, punctuated by the second shutout in a week.
``It's a tough stretch,' Seattle manager Don Wakamatsu said. ``It's is hard to watch the same game. The fans are getting tired of it, we are getting tired of it here, but we were continue to believe in what we can do and continue to work.
Crawford hit a two-run homer in the eighth off Seattle reliever Ian Snell, after singling in the fifth and doubling in the sixth. Willy Aybar also had two hits and two RBIs.
Ben Zobrist laid down a perfect squeeze bunt to score Jason Barlett, who doubled to open the fifth. Evan Longoria extended his hitting streak to 12 games with an RBI double, and B.J. Upton had an RBI double and two runs scored.
``We don't look at our record too much because then the propensity would be to enjoy it too much,' Tampa Bay's Carlos Pena said. ``We've been really good that if we win, then we let it go.'
Seattle starter Ryan Rowland-Smith (0-2) failed to make it through the fifth, battered for six runs and seven hits in his shortest outing of the season. He's given up at least five earned runs in consecutive starts.
NOTES: The Rays are one of only four teams since 1961 to start 12-1 or better on the road. ... Injured Mariners LHP Erik Bedard threw a pain-free bullpen session on Wednesday and is expected to throw a simulated game either Monday or Tuesday. Bedard is recovering from left shoulder surgery. ... Snell threw 3 1-3 innings of relief, his first appearance out of the bullpen since Aug. 12, 2005 while with Pittsburgh.
The Associated Press News Service
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