Niemann entered Tuesday night's contest as the pride of the Rays' staff, sporting a team-high 12 wins and a team-low ERA of 3.57. Both marks suffered in Niemann's 27th start of the season, as he allowed six runs on 11 hits in 4 1/3 innings to take his sixth loss of the season.
Making matters worse for Niemann and the Rays was the fact the offense staked the right-hander to a 5-0 lead after three innings. The Orioles chipped away at the lead, scoring two in the third and one in the fourth before finally taking the lead on Niemann's watch in the fifth, when Matt Wieters singled home two to lead a three-run inning and put Baltimore up 6-5.
"A lot of balls were left up," Niemann said. "I just didn't really execute location today. That's what happens when you miss. They're going to take advantage of that."
Pitching with a big lead can sometimes make a pitcher change his approach. That wasn't the case with Niemann on Tuesday night.
"That didn't play a part," Niemann said. "I was missing in the heart of the strike zone. I was throwing a lot of strikes today -- maybe too many. And I just kept missing over the middle of the plate."
Rays manager Joe Maddon thought Niemann got off to a good start but did not have his normal velocity.
"It was 89 or 90 [mph], so I knew his ball was off a little bit," Maddon said. "I didn't see any kind of good rhythm out of him tonight. He didn't look like he was comfortable out there and just was not making very good pitches."
In Niemann's past four starts leading up to Tuesday night's struggle, he dominated the Yankees and Tigers twice, but he couldn't handle the last-place Orioles.
"He's been solid. ... He was just a little quick tonight," Maddon said. "He never did find that release point or groove."
Niemann seemed to take his outing in stride.
"[I'll] go back to the drawing board the next couple of days," Niemann said. "Just kind of take a look at things and get back to basics and get back out there."
The loss came a night after the Rays snapped an 11-game losing streak. They have now lost 16 of their past 20 games. Once a season-high 13 games over .500 on Aug. 25, Tampa Bay is now just one game above the break-even mark with a record of 73-72.
"It's absolutely no fun [being one game over .500]," Maddon said. "Everybody's going to look at our record now and think it's been an abysmal season. And it has not. We've had a bad couple of weeks right now."
Pat Burrell's three-run homer led a four-run first inning as the Rays took an early lead. Burrell's 14th home run of the season came on the first pitch from Orioles starter Jason Berken and just cleared the right-field wall. Burrell added an RBI single in the third to push Tampa Bay's lead to 5-0.
"Of course you want to finish strong," said Burrell. "What else can you do? It's one game and unfortunately we lost."
Ben Zobrist had an RBI double in the first to give him 74 for the season and pulling him into a tie with Mark DeRosa (Texas 2006) for the most in one season since 1954 by a player who started at six positions. Zobrist finished 3-for-4, just a home run away from the cycle.
In the third, Brian Roberts had an RBI double and Nick Markakis grounded out to score another run. Cesar Izturis singled home a run in the fourth to cut the Rays' lead to 5-3.
Luke Scott added a solo home run off Brian Shouse in the seventh and Wieters hit a three-run homer off Chad Bradford in the eighth, leaving the Orioles' rookie catcher a triple short of the cycle with a career-high five RBIs in the game.
Wieters "swung the bat real well today," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said. "I thought the one that broke it is, he finally hit one so he can get a double. The guy's hit some of the longest singles I've ever seen. He finally hit one, so they couldn't hold him at first. I think that loosened him up a little."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less