Ex-Oriole Garrett Atkins homers in Pirates' 6-5 win over Rays

February 28, 2011|By Baltimore Sun reporter

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — The importance of good base running is a major point of emphasis for the Tampa Bay Rays in spring training and Manny Ramirez is paying attention.

The slugger had two hits, drove in a run and played left field for the first time with his new team during a 6-5 loss to a Pittsburgh Pirates split squad on Monday.

Ramirez, signed this month to a $2 million, one-year contract, also made a good impression by scoring from third base on a second-inning wild pitch, sliding into the plate to the delight of the crowd at Charlotte Sports Park.

"We've talked about baserunning almost 100 percent of the time during practice in the mornings," manager Joe Maddon said. "I liked what he did right there. He's alert. He's buying into everything we're trying to do here, and I liked it a lot."

Garrett Atkins hit a three-run homer for Pittsburgh, delivering the big blow in a five-run fourth inning against right-hander Mike Ekstrom.

Josh Fields had a RBI single for the Pirates, and Chris Snyder scored the winning run on wild pitch during an error-filled seventh inning.

Ramirez started in left field for the Rays after making his spring debut as a designated hitter on Monday. He went 2 for 2, including a RBI single off Fernando Nieve, and scored Tampa Bay's first run when he scooted home on Bryan Morris' wild pitch.

"The game says, `play ball,"' Ramirez said, shrugging off his heads-up baserunning. "I just go and play."

It was a relatively quiet day in left for the 12-time All-Star, who only had two balls hit his way. He caught Atkins' line drive to end the second inning, then fielded Neil Walker's fourth-inning single before leaving the the game.

The Rays intend to use Ramirez as the regular DH. Still, they also want him to play some in the outfield during spring training so he's prepared for the possibility they'll need him to spell Johnny Damon on occasion during the season.

"He did fine. A couple of chances out there," Maddon said. "I thought he looked really good at the plate. Line drive into left-center, line drive into right-center. I liked his approach at the plate. He looked really good."

Right-hander Jeff Niemann made his first spring start for the Rays, pitching one scoreless inning. Relievers Kyle Farnsworth and Joel Peralta, signed this winner to help rebuild a bullpen depleted by free agency, both worked scoreless innings, too.

Peralta hit in the back of the left calf by a line drive off the bat of Alex Presley, but was able to throw the runner out at first and finish the inning.

"It hit him pretty squarely in the calf, and we were just concerned that it was going to get too tight," Maddon said. "But apparently he was fine. He pitched through it. I've not heard anything negative … so I imagine it's all good."

Niemann has been one of Tampa Bay's most consistent pitchers over the past two seasons. He was 6-0 over his first 12 starts of 2010 and was 10-3 with a 3.12 ERA before being placed on the 15-day disabled list with a right shoulder strain on Aug. 9.

He struggled after returning in late August, going 2-5 with a 9.82 ERA in eight appearances, including seven starts.

Nevertheless, the 6-foot-9 right-hander is one of eight big league pitchers with at least 12 victories and a .600 winning percentage each of the past two seasons. The others are Roy Halladay, Tim Lincecum, CC Sabatahia, Jon Lester, Justin Verlander, Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter.

"It's always nice to get off to a good start," Niemann said, adding that the 12-pitch, one-two-three inning was a nice gift on his 28th birthday.

NOTES: Damon, Ben Zobrist and Justin Ruggiano also drove in runs for the Rays. … Morris, 9-4 with a 3.57 ERA in 27 combined starts for Class A Bradenton and Double-A Altoona last year, allowed one run and two hits in two innings. The Pirates acquired him from the Dodgers in the three-team trade that Ramirez from Boston to Los Angeles and Jason Bay from Pittsburgh to the Red Sox in July 2008.

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