Daily Dish: July 25

Hello Niemann; Rays Righty Earns First Pro Win





See also: Yesterday's Daily Dish
See also: Today's Baseball America Prospect Report

"Congratulations. Great game. It's about time."

That was the text message Jeff Niemann received from his parents immediately following his first win as a professional last night. The Devil Rays righthander took a no-hitter into the seventh inning and allowed just one hit in seven innings to earn the victory for Double-A Montgomery against Jacksonville. He fanned three and walked two and is now 1-4, 3.32 for the Biscuits.

Wins were Niemann's forte when he was at Rice, as he went 17-0 as sophomore in 2003 in helping the Owls win the College World Series. Yesterday was his first win since June 2004, as he did not pitch professionally in 2004 after holding out. The No. 4 overall pick in '04 was limited to just 31 innings last year because of injury.

The 23-year-old had surgery this past offseason to shave the joint between between his collarbone and shoulder, and it appears that his stuff is getting back to where it was when he was dominating at Rice.

Niemann threw 50 of 86 pitches for strikes and had his fastball sitting at 93 mph and touching 95.

"His fastball had some life to it and he was going right after hitters," pitching coach Xavier Hernandez told the Montgomery Advertiser. "It looked like he was trusting his fastball more."

The 6-foot-9, 260-pounder did not allow a baserunner until the sixth and the only hit he allowed was to Tony Abreu.

"He just needs to stay healthy because his stuff is coming back," manager Charlie Montoyo said last week. "He's staying at 93-94 with his fastball, he's still very tall and keeps the ball down, and his slider is still a very good pitch. He just needs to learn what he needs to do against professional hitters, but the pitches that made him a high draft pick, they are all there."

Fittingly, Niemann's Rice teammate Philip Humber was also on the mound last night and showing he is well on the road to a full recovery. Humber earned his third win of the year for high Class A St. Lucie, as the Mets righthander allowed one run over seven innings on just two hits while fanning four and walking two. He is now 3-1, 2.73 for St. Lucie.

The victory was Humber's fifth win as a pro, which gives him four more than Niemann and five more than Wade Townsend, their other Rice teammate who was also a first-round pick of the Devil Rays and is currently recovering from Tommy John surgery.

---MATT MEYERS

Greinke Drilled By Tulsa

Once upon a time, a first-inning eight-spot by the home team would have meant a win for Zack Greinke. However, last night's breakdown was just another sign for how far things have fallen for the former Royals ace.

In his 11th start for Double-A Wichita, the righthander made it through the Tulsa lineup unscathed the first time, retiring the first nine batters he faced. The lineup included vaunted sluggers Troy Tulowitzki, Ian Stewart and Joe Koshansky, but despite their firepower, the Wranglers' 8-0 lead all but assured a victory.

As the cliche goes, that's why they play the games.

"(Tulsa's) a team that scores runs, and the wind is blowing out and you know you're going to have to pitch good and keep the ball down to get through the game," Wichita manager Frank White told the Wichita Eagle.

Greinke failed to continue on his pace, taken out in the middle of the fifth inning having allowed nine runs over two frames. The damage was led by two home runs, including a grand slam by Joe Gaetti in the fourth inning.

"I started off bad (in the fourth)," Greinke told the paper. "I had been in a groove. Then it started out bad. I don't know. After four or five hitters, I lost the feel I had in the first three innings and never got it back. I sucked for two innings. If I would have stayed out there, I would have continued to suck."

The game would go back and forth in the following innings, as the Wranglers took a 10-9 lead before a Joe Koshansky home run put Tulsa back in front. Wichita outfielder Chris Lubanski would hit his second home run of the game to tie things in the seventh, but Tulsa put the game away in the eighth and ninth innings and went on to win 16-11.

"It's hard to swallow when you're hitting the ball well and you lose," Lubanski, now slugging .571 in July, told the newspaper. "We battled back. We had the game. We still should have won it."

---BRYAN SMITH

QUICK HITS

• Twins righthander Anthony Swarzak continued his stellar month with his best outing of the season at high Class A Fort Myers on Monday. The 20-year-old threw a one-hit, complete-game shutout in the Miracle's 6-0 win against Palm Beach, striking out four and walking two. He retired the first 13 batters he faced before recently promoted Randy Roth ripped a one-out double in the fifth inning, but the Cardinals would not get to Swarzak again. He finished the game by setting down the final 10 batters in a row. After an inconsistent first three months of the season, Swarzak is now 3-1, 0.32 with 21 strikeouts and seven walks in 28 July innings. Opponents are hitting .146 against him this month.

• The Tigers are one team that will be looking to make some trades before the July 31 deadline, but two of their prime trade chips could see their value limited because of recent injuries. Though not deemed serious, righthander Humberto Sanchez was scratched from a start tonight because of elbow soreness. Jair Jurrjens, another righthander, missed a start this weekend because of neck stiffness caused by a minor automobile accident.

• The Yankees' Jose Tabata was hit on the hand by a pitch last week and has been placed on the disabled list with a bruise on his wrist/thumb, according to a Charleston RiverDogs spokesman. The spokesman did not know which hand was injured. The 17-year-old had gone 1-for-21 after playing in the Futures Game and has not played in a week. He is hitting .303/.383/.427 in 314 at-bats for low Class A Charleston.

• Left fielder Jack Cust set the Triple-A Portland club record (since its 2001 reinarnation) for walks in a game and a season with his five-free pass effort at Las Vegas. His total reached 97 for the year--with more than a month to go--and his bases loaded walk in the 11th drove in the go-ahead run. The 27-year-old, in his sixth Triple-A season, is hitting .290/.460/.519 in 310 at-bats.

• One night after Triple-A Salt Lake got bombed 28-5 by Tucson, the Bees got a solid start from lefthander Joe Saunders, who allowed just three runs over eight innings. It wasn't enough. Tucson righthander Dustin Nippert went seven innings while surrendering just one run. He struck out 11 and walked only one, and the Sidewinders won 3-2. Tucson manager Chip Hale was sympathetic to Salt Lake's plight, telling The Salt Lake Tribune: "Saunders might be the best pitcher in the league. This is the best (Nippert) has thrown in a while."

• The other big comeback of the night also came in the Texas League, where Midland scored six runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to send the game into extra innings. A Kurt Suzuki single in the 13th inning gave Midland the 10-9 victory against Frisco. The game spoiled a pair of big performances by new faces in Frisco, especially Eric Hurley, who allowed just two runs over six frames in his debut at the level. He left with a 6-2 lead. Second baseman Tug Hulett, in just his 11th game with the Roughriders, had five hits (including two triples) in the loss. He's now 20-for-45 since reaching Double-A.

• Milwaukee first-rounder Jeremy Jeffress made his longest outing of the season in the Rookie-level Arizona League on Monday, with sparkling results. The righthander allowed just three hits and no runs over six innings, striking out four in the process. He has now not allowed a run through 11 2/3 frames.

• For their actions in Everett last week, three Boise players will be serving suspensions this week. The Hawks are away at Spokane for a three game series, and take on Salem-Keizer at home from July 28-31. Infielder Elvin Puello started his three-game suspension Monday for his part in the benches-clearing incident at Everett on July 21. Alfred Joseph, who's batting .354, and righthander Jose Pina also have to serve three-game suspensions for separate incidents. On July 21, Joseph was upset about a tag at first, whipped off his helmet and hit AquaSox first baseman Joe White in the head with the helmet. The benches cleared and Joseph was ejected.  Pina was ejected and since suspended after plunking outfielder Greg Halman on July 19.

Contributing: J.J. Cooper, Aaron Fitt, John Manuel, Kristin Pratt.