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Stage set for Sonnanstine to thrive

Rays set stage for Sonnanstine to thrive

ST. PETERSBURG -- The last time the stage was set, nearly seven months ago, Andy Sonnanstine emerged the champ. The 25-year-old picked up his second win, posting a 1.29 ERA in the Rays 9-2 victory over Seattle, striking out eight batters and scattering six hits.

The stage set for Wednesday has an eerily similar feel.

Sonnanstine will again face Seattle's Jarrod Washburn, as he did in the teams' last matchup at Safeco Field on Sept. 16. And again, Sonnanstine will be looking for win No. 2, after notching a win in his regular-season debut April 4 vs. the Yankees.

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But the right-hander hopes it won't be complete déjà vu.

After all, Sonnastine's win in Seattle was his last recorded victory of the year, capping off a mediocre 6-10 season with a 5.85 ERA.

With all the buzz surrounding the new acquisitions and veteran additions, it was easy to overlook Sonnanstine's solid spring: a 2.50 ERA in 18 innings pitched. But an impressive regular season debut in New York on April 4, in which Sonnanstine held a potent Yankees lineup to four runs in six innings, has thrust the right-hander into the spotlight.

So the question is no longer Sonnanstine's ability, just his approach.

The righty allowed all four of New York's runs in the third inning, and admits to losing his focus, albeit briefly. Far from content, Sonnastine said he will build on his opening experience, and make the necessary adjustments.

"Anytime you come out of Yankee Stadium with a win it's a positive," he said. "And I had that one rough inning where I had the ball up, so I'm going to work on that and have more consistent innings."

Consistency would be key for a Rays rotation that has entered the season with numerous setbacks. Ace Scott Kazmir has been sidelined since Feb. 25 with a left elbow strain, and Matt Garza left Tuesday's game with radial nerve irritation -- an injury that landed him on the 15-day disabled list.

The Rays are in dire need of a level-headed, no-frills performance similar to the one Sonnanstine delivered in New York.

"I really appreciated the way he did come back after that inning," manager Joe Maddon said following Friday's game. "A lot of guys fold after that point. He did not. Typical Sonnanstine, he is a tough guy."

And these are certainly tough times for the Rays' young arms.

Still, Sonnanstine remains even-keeled, saying there will "definitely not" be a let-down in his expectations away from the Friday night lights of New York.

"They're a good swinging club, always have been," he said of Seattle.

So how will Sonnanstine, who as of Tuesday night is second in the rotation only to James Shields, approach Wednesday's game?

By perhaps recalling a little bit of the past.

"Last time I pitched against them, I did pretty well, so I'm going to take the same approach," he said.

"Ichiro's good. We'll formulate a good plan, he's one of the guys I need to watch out for."

And if Sonnanstine can continue to remain constant, opposing batters will soon be saying the same thing about him.

Pitching matchup
TB: RHP Andy Sonnanstine (1-0, 6.00 ERA)
Sonnanstine is 1-0 with a 1.29 ERA in his career vs. Seattle. The right-hander took the hill opposite Washburn, for a 9-2 Rays victory on September 16, 2007.

SEA: LHP Jarrod Washburn (0-1, 5.40 ERA)
Washburn is 10-3 with a 2.69 ERA against Tampa Bay. Tuesday's game will mark his second start of the season; Washburn took the mound in Seattle's April 4 loss at Baltimore.

Tidbits
With his single in Tuesday's game, Carl Crawford is now just five hits shy of 1,000 for his career. ... Maddon was ejected from the game following a controversial call at third base regarding B.J. Upton. It was the first time Maddon has been ejected this season, and the seventh time in his managerial career. ... LHP Kurt Birkins also threw his second live bullpen session prior to Tuesday's game. His next step will be to throw in a game situation later this week. ... Shawn Riggans had his first Major League home run, sending a pitch from Erik Bedard over the left-field fence.

Tickets
 Buy tickets now to catch the game in person.

On the Internet
 MLB.TV
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television
• FSN

On radio
• WHNZ 1250, WGES 680 (Español)

Up next
• Thursday: Rays (Edwin Jackson, 1-0, 1.50) vs. Mariners (Miguel Batista, 0-1, 6.00), 12:40 p.m. ET
• Friday: Rays (James Shields, 1-1, 3.00) vs. Orioles (Jeremy Guthrie, 0-1, 5.11), 7:10 p.m. ET
• Saturday: Rays (TBD) vs. Orioles (TBD), 7:10 p.m. ET

Brittany Ghiroli is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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