Niemann earns 3rd win, Durham Bulls report

Jeff Niemann, who is off to a strong start to the 2007 season with the Durham Bulls, scattered 8 hits and allowed only 2 earned runs on Tuesday night against the Norfolk Tides.

Former College World Series hero and first round draft pick, Jeff Niemann, is off to a strong start in his first full season at the AAA level with the Durham Bulls. Niemann, who turned in a solid performance for the Devil Rays in big league Spring Training, moved to 3-1 on Tuesday night after earning the win in Durham's 9-3 win over the Norfolk Tides. The 6'9 right hander lasted 6.0 innings, struck out 5, and only allowed 2 earned runs. The Rice product lowered his ERA to 3.47 for the season in the outing.

Niemann is one of a trio of pitchers in Durham that have made a strong case to be called up to the big league roster in place of struggling veteran Jae Seo. Niemann, Jason Hammell, and Andy Sonnanstine have fared very well against International League competition to this point. Niemann entered Tuesday night's game with a 2-1 record and a 3.56 ERA in 30.1 innings over 6 starts.

After injuries slowed down the 24 year old, Niemann had a strong 2006 season for the Southern League Champion Montgomery Biscuits. In 14 starts, Niemann finished the season 5-5 with an impressive 2.68 ERA. Through 77.1 innings of work, he scattered 56 hits and only allowed 24 earned runs. If Niemann continues to develop, he could be a force in the Tampa Bay rotation for years to come.

Shortstop Jorge Velandia helped Niemann in Tuesday's victory over the Tides. The veteran infielder finished the night 4-5 with 2 RBIS and 2 runs scored to raise his average to .262. Three other Bulls collected 3 or more hits in the win, Chris Richard, Shawn Riggans, and Justin Ruggiano.

Richard went 3-4 with 2 2B to raise his average to .262. The left fielder and #2 hitter in the Bulls' lineup is now leading the team in doubles (9), home runs (5), and tied for the lead in RBIS (14). Ruggiano, who went 3-5, led the way offensively for the Bulls with a career high 5 RBIS. He connected for a grand slam, his 2nd home run of the year, off of Tides starter Tim Kester in the 2nd inning. The right field prospect is now leading the Bulls with a .316 batting average. Riggans, ranked by Rays Digest as the top catching prospect in the entire organization, finished the night 3-5 with 1 RBI. Dustan Mohr also homered for the Bulls in the win.

Even with the surge of offense in the middle of the bulls lineup, two players continued to struggle at the plate in the win. Second baseman Elliot Johnson (.184) and third baseman Matthew Maniscalco (.190), who are both batting under the Mendoza line, only collected 1 hit each at the bottom of the lineup.

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