PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- The fifth spots in the respective rotations were on the line Friday afternoon, when the Orioles defeated the Rays, 6-3, at Charlotte Sports Park.
Jeff Niemann, who is in contention with Roberto Hernandez for the No. 5 slot in the Rays' rotation, faced off against Steve Johnson, who is competing against Brian Matusz, Zach Britton and Jake Arrieta for the final starter job for the O's.
Johnson was making his fifth appearance of the spring, and he looked well on his way to a solid outing. The right-hander retired the first eight batters he faced, striking out two before he walked the bases loaded with two outs in the third. Evan Longoria then ripped a double to left that emptied the bases to give the Rays a 3-0 lead.
Johnson allowed three runs on two hits while walking three and striking out two in four innings.
Making his sixth appearance of the spring, Niemann pitched four scoreless frames before the Orioles struck for two in the fifth on an RBI single by Jonathan Schoop, who later scored on a double play to cut the Rays' lead to 3-2.
Schoop also fueled a three-run Orioles sixth with a two-run homer off Niemann.
Niemann allowed five earned runs on 10 hits with a walk and five strikeouts in six innings.
"Honestly, it's the best I've felt all spring," said Niemann. "The best I've thrown the ball. Really I made just a couple of bad pitches. The homer is what really upset me today, but besides that, I thought I threw the ball pretty well."
Steve Pearce tacked on a run for the Orioles with a homer in the seventh.
Up next: Wei-Yin Chen will get the start for Baltimore opposite Phillies right-hander Aaron Cook. Closer Jim Johnson and Darren O'Day are also scheduled to pitch for the Orioles, who will host Philadelphia for a 1:05 p.m. contest at Ed Smith Stadium on Saturday, live on MLB.TV.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less