Tampa Bay has won four straight, 10 of its last 11 and 12 of the last 14 heading into Thursday afternoon's series finale at Tropicana Field against Kevin Millwood and the Mariners. Niemann, the Rays' streaky right-hander, can complete the sweep, and he believes he's on the cusp of putting together a run of solid outings.
"When we put stuff together, we usually can hang on to that run for a while and things have been pretty close the first few games," Niemann said. "Hopefully, we hit that roll and get things started."
Niemann said he can tell when everything is starting to click. It happens when he's throwing quality strikes, getting ahead of batters and letting the Rays' defense pick up the ground balls he induces. That means getting his fastball down in the zone, mixing in his curveball early in counts and breaking out good put-away pitches.
"It's easier said than done, obviously, but that's the goal when we go out there," Niemann said.
Millwood will take the mound for the fifth time, still looking for his first win of the season, and he's coming off a solid start in which he gave up just three runs (one earned) in seven innings at Toronto.
"I felt good. I felt like all my pitches except for my changeup were working pretty well," Millwood said. "I felt like I located pretty well. ... I was still able to keep us in the ballgame and go deep into the game. I'm not satisfied by any means, but I definitely felt better about it."
"Kevin really stepped up for us and pitched a good ballgame, getting us through seven innings," added Mariners manager Eric Wedge. "That's what you like to see from Kevin, making good pitches when he needs to, spotting his fastball and mixing in his secondary stuff."
Mariners: Jaso to start
• Wedge used rookie Jesus Montero in back-to-back games for the first time Tuesday and Wednesday after Miguel Olivo went on the 15-day disabled list with a strained right groin on Monday, but he said John Jaso -- a former Ray -- will make his first start behind the plate in Thursday's series finale.
"That will be fun seeing him," Niemann said.
• Mike Carp will also return Thursday after being activated off the DL on Tuesday. He wasn't in the lineup again Wednesday because Wedge wanted to get another right-handed hitter in the starting lineup to combat James Shields' changeup.
Rays: Upton injury 'nothing serious'
• B.J. Upton left Wednesday night's 5-4 win with tightness in his right quad, but manager Joe Maddon said it wasn't a serious injury -- just regular cramping and tightness. Upton was feeling better as the night progressed, but Maddon didn't want to push his center fielder too hard after an injury-shortened Spring Training and a lot of games on Tropicana Field's tough turf.
• Will Rhymes made his first Major League start at third base Wednesday, replacing the injured Evan Longoria. Rhymes went 2-for-4 at the plate on the night.
"You lose Longoria and that's horrible for the team, and I'm not trying to fill his shoes at all," Rhymes said. "But if I can do anything to help them win a game or two here or there, that's all I'm trying to do."
Hideki Matsui, signed to a Minor League deal by the Rays, participated in his first workout in Port Charlotte, Fla., on Wednesday. About 40 members of the Japanese media attended the extended spring training workout at the Charlotte Sports Park complex.
• Utility infielder Munenori Kawasaki has taken on the Mariners' emergency catcher position with Olivo on the DL and the club only carrying two other catchers in Montero and Jaso.