The Rays seem to be getting their starting pitching in order.
Ace RHP James Shields set the tone -- again -- on Saturday by taking a shutout into the ninth, improving to 3-0 as the Rays logged a 4-1 win over the Twins.
More important, RHP Jeff Niemann followed up with a strong outing in Sunday's 6-2 win. Although only working into the sixth, he allowed just two runs on three hits for his first win of the season.
"Everything felt pretty good," Niemann said. "We were throwing a lot of strikes with the fastball and we were using the off-speed stuff to keep them off balance. . . . It was basically mixing in off-speed stuff when we needed to mix in off-speed stuff and throwing first-pitch breaking balls when you need to and keep them off balance and let the defense work."
Manager Joe Maddon has been harping on a lack of aggressiveness by the starters, saying they have been "tap dancing" too often on the edges of the strike zone and paying too much respect to the hitters.
The solid back-to-back starts are a sign they have gotten the message.
--CF B.J. Upton came through Saturday night for a 16-year-old battling a life-threatening illness. He visited the boy at St. Petersburg's All Children's Hospital before the game and then drove in the go-ahead runs with a bases-loaded single. The boy, identified only as Dom, had asked Upton to hit a home run for him.
"It wasn't a home run, but it was just as good," Upton said. "I told him (via the post-game TV interview) that one was for him. Hopefully he saw it. Like I said, it made my day."
--OF Desmond Jennings homered Sunday for the second time in four games. "My swing isn't the best power swing, but I've got a little something, I think," he said. "I feel like my job is not to hit the ball far; it's to get on base, so that's what I try to do. Every once in a while, I will try to stretch out one."
--RHP James Shields continues to pitch like a true ace. He led the Rays to victory Saturday with another impressive outing, taking a shutout into the ninth, the 14th time in his last 24 starts he allowed one or no runs.
Manager Joe Maddon, who doesn't hand out the title easily, said Shields is getting there.
"He's morphing into that," Maddon said. "Part of it is that he doesn't shy away from it. He wants to be that guy. He believes he is. I wouldn't necessarily put him there, but he's pretty close."
--1B/OF Brandon Allen joined the Rays on Saturday, wearing No. 19 after a waiver claim from Oakland, with an unclear role. Manager Joe Maddon said he would figure out how best to use Allen's big bat, with pinch-hitting probably most likely at first, at least until the Rays get a better sense of how he can handle the outfield defensively.
Allen, 26, said he is open to whatever they have in mind. "I guess people know me for power, but I want to be more than that," he said. "And hopefully the guys here can turn me into a complete player."
--C/OF Stephen Vogt was honored Sunday as winner of the Al Lopez Award, given to the top Rays rookie in spring training. Vogt made the opening roster, but was optioned back to Triple-A on Friday so Al Lopez III and Al Lopez IV presented the award to Mitch Lukevics, the Rays' director of minor league operations. Vogt hit .323 (10-for-31) with three RBI, three doubles and a triple in 15 spring games, playing four positions.
BY THE NUMBERS: 106 -- Consecutive home games without scoring at least 10 runs (from Aug. 17, 2010, through Sunday). It's the longest such streak since the 1980-82 Blue Jays went 165.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We just keep on coming. We are not going to give up. We are very persistent." -- 1B Carlos Pena, on back-to-back series wins.