ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) -- Strong starting pitching, stellar defense and just enough offense to win close games. After a decade of life at the bottom of the AL East, the Tampa Bay Rays are beginning to get things right.
Scott Kazmir pitched six scoreless innings and the improving Rays beat the suddenly punchless Los Angeles Angels 2-0 on Saturday night to hand Joe Saunders his first loss of the season.One day after James Shields shut out the Angels 2-0 on a one-hitter, Kazmir (1-1) held them to a single and two doubles in his second start since missing all of April with a left elbow strain suffered during spring training.Tampa Bay starting pitchers haven't yielded a run in their last 23 innings. The defense behind them has been outstanding, too, with the Rays committing just one error in the past 16 games to help the team win five of their last six series."It's been fabulous. ... We know that we have good arms. We know that we are physically skilled pitching-wise," Rays manager Joe Maddon said."It's what we've been planning to do since spring training, just feed off each other," Kazmir added. "We're going to try to keep the momentum going."Evan Longoria, who won Friday night's game with a two-run, ninth-inning homer, drove in the only run off Saunders (6-1) when he grounded into a force play with the bases loaded in the first inning.Saunders, trying to become the AL's first seven-game winner, allowed four hits, struck out three and walked a season-high four in six innings. Teammate Ervin Santana (6-0) will put his perfect record on the line against the Rays in Sunday's series finale."They've done a good job on the mound, and we're not swinging the bats and getting enough chances," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "We really only pressured them one inning. Couldn't get that one hit to fall in."Kazmir, the 2007 AL strikeout champion, spent the first five weeks on the disabled list after hurting his elbow throwing a warm-up pitch for an intrasquad game in February. He lasted four innings, allowing four runs and six hits, in a 7-3 loss at Boston last Sunday.The 24-year-old left-hander walked three and struck out six against the Angels, who have lost three straight and haven't scored in their last 18 innings.Trever Miller pitched the seventh, Dan Wheeler worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the eighth and Troy Percival finished up the combined three-hitter for his eighth save.Tampa Bay won for the 12th time in 17 games and climbed a club-record four games over .500 for just the fourth time in the franchise's 11 seasons. The Rays (20-16) were 16-12 on May 1; 11-7 on April 23, 1999, and 10-6 on April 19, 1998.The Rays have also won a frachise-best eight consecutive "home" games, including a three-game series they swept from Toronto at Disney World. Kazmir also became the club's career wins leader with 36."No runs in six innings," Maddon said. "That's something good to build off."Saunders limited the Rays to singles by Akinori Iwamura, Jason Bartlett and Eric Hinske in the first four innings. Longoria's bases-loaded grounder to third base drove in Iwamura for the 1-0 lead Tampa Bay held until Carlos Pena's sacrifice fly off Darren Oliver made it a two-run game in the eighth.The Angels threatened in the fifth when Sean Rodriguez drew a two-out walk and Gary Matthews doubled into the right-field corner to break an 0-for-11 slide. Kazmir escaped when Erick Aybar grounded to short.Vladimir Guerrero singled, leading off the sixth, for the third hit off Kazmir. The left-hander got Torii Hunter to hit into a double play and retired Juan Rivera on a grounder to short to end his 108-pitch outing.The Angels squandered their best opportunity to score after Wheeler walked Reggie Willits and Matthews, then issued an intentional pass to Guerrero to load the bases with one out in the eighth.Wheeler wiggled out of trouble by getting Hunter to pop out and pinch-hitter Garret Anderson to ground to first."We weren't able to do much in the batter's box," Scioscia said, "and they were able to do just enough."
Los Angeles placed INF Chone Figgins (strained right hamstring) on the 15-day disabled list after the game. INF Kendry Morales was recalled from Triple-A Salt Lake. ... Aybar, the Angels' shortstop, was back in the lineup after leaving Friday night's loss when he was hit by a pitch in the left pinkie. ... Rays relievers Al Reyes (right shoulder impingement) and Gary Glover (right shoulder tendinitis) threw bullpen sessions. Reyes is expected to pitch in an extended spring training game on Monday. ... RHP John Lackey (strained right triceps) felt good after his final rehab start in an extended spring training game and could rejoin the rotation Wednesday against the Chicago White Sox.