Sonnanstine's gem lifts Rays over O's

Sonnanstine's gem lifts Rays

BALTIMORE -- Closing the books on April, the Rays finished off the best opening month in club history with a decisive 8-1 win over the Orioles on Wednesday night in front of a crowd of 11,944 at Camden Yards.

By posting a 14-12 mark in April (the Rays' record for the season is 15-12, but their first win of the season came March 31), the Rays experienced their first winning April in club history. It's the latest the Rays have ever been into a season with a record of three games over .500.

"Nice, it's nice, it's something to build on," said Rays manager Joe Maddon when reminded the Rays had just completed the best April in the team's eleven-year existence. "Let's have the best May, now."

Andy Sonnanstine started for the Rays and did his best to claim a seat in the high-stakes game of musical chairs with the other starters seeking to remain in the rotation. Once Scott Kazmir is activated Sunday, Sonnanstine, Matt Garza, Jason Hammel or Edwin Jackson will be bumped. The cagey right-hander did his best to separate himself from the pack by claiming his fourth win of the month, which established a team high for April.

"There's nothing easy right now," Maddon said. "I don't really want to get into [the pending decision] too deeply, we all know what's coming up in a couple of days and we have a tough decision to make, but he's making a strong case for himself."

Sonnanstine said he tries not to think about the pending decision.

"It's something that's completely out of my control," Sonnansine said. "I try to worry about sticking to the plan and staying in the zone."

In typical Sonnanstine fashion, he demonstrated how calm can kill an opposing rally by keeping his cool. Despite surrendering leadoff singles in the first three innings, Sonnanstine got nicked for just one run when Brian Roberts singled home Adam Jones in the third.

"'Unflappable' is kind of a word with him, describing him I think," Maddon said. "He had the one bad outing this year [against the Yankees] when he got totally away from his game plan and got beat up. But he's really rebounded nicely and he's pitched his game."

Sonnanstine allowed just the one run in his eight innings of work, limiting the O's to six hits, striking out five and walking two.

"My location was a little spotty early, but around the third or fourth inning I felt locked in," Sonnanstine said.

Sonnanstine lowered his ERA from 5.28 to 4.42 while helping the Rays' establish a new ERA low for any month in team history at 3.74; the previous low for a month came in June of 2000 when the Rays pitched to a 3.76 ERA.

Meanwhile, Eric Hinske triggered an offensive outburst with his sixth home run of the season, a two-run shot off O's starter Matt Albers that gave the Rays a 3-1 cushion. In addition to his home run, Hinske walked three times Wednesday night.

Few Rays stories equal the one scripted by Hinske this April. The veteran infielder/outfielder arrived in St. Petersburg in February as a non-roster invitee, won a roster spot and made himself indispensable with his play.

"Eric the Hinske has had a great month, it's just the quality of the at-bat," Maddon said. "He does not give an at-bat away. He works every at-bat. He's classic, he attempts to swing at strikes, he takes borderline pitches. He doesn't give in. He's a good example for a lot of our young hitters to watch. ... His approach at the plate right now is very good. He has been, obviously, a huge plus for us."

Hinske said he appreciates the opportunity Maddon has given him and he's pleased with how the first month went.

"It was a good start for sure [for him], and for the team," Hinske said. He added that how the team played in April "was a big step for us. Hopefully, this team can stay hot and we can keep winning games."

The Rays put away the game in the seventh when B.J. Upton singled home one run and Carlos Pena and Dioner Navarro added two-run singles to push the lead to 8-1.

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.