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Tampa Bay Rays' Hammel traded to Rockies; Niemann fifth starter

5

April

After the long wait, RHPs Jason Hammel and Jeff Niemann finally have closure.

Hammel said he has been traded to the Rockies and Niemann was told he'll be the Rays fifth starter.

Hammel, 26, said he received word of the trade from the Rays Sunday afternoon. Though he enjoyed his time with the Rays, Hammel is looking forward to a fresh start in Colorado, where he hopes to be a part of their big-league rotation.

Hammel broke camp last year as the team's fifth starter - while LHP Scott Kazmir was on the disabled list - but moved to the bullpen once Kazmir returned, and was the long reliever. He said he hasn't heard yet from the Rockies what his role will be, whether it's in long relief or in the rotation.

"I'm definitely appreciative of the opportunity they gave me - wish there was more," Hammel said of the Rays, who drafted him in the 10th round in 2002. "It seemed like I never really had a solidified spot, I was bouncing back between starting and bullpen. But it happens. This is part of the game, the business side and a great opportunity to go to the Rockies."

Though there's been no official announcement as of yet, the Times has confirmed the Rays will get 21-year-old RHP prospect Aneury Rodriguez in return. Rodriguez, the Rockies No. 16 prospect by Baseball America, was scheduled to start the season at Double-A Tulsa, having gone 9-10 with a 3.74 ERA and 139 strikeouts/40 walks in 156 innings last season at advanced Class A Modesto.

Niemann, 26, was elated when he received word he'll be the fifth starter, and break camp with the Rays for the first time. He said he'll board a flight tonight for Boston and join the team. That means that RHP Lance Cormier will likely end up as the Rays long reliever.

Niemann, the Rays 2004 first-round pick, made his major league debut last season, appearing in five games (including two starts), but is now ready to try to stick.

"I'm real exicited - I can't wait to go up there and do my best to get some wins," Niemann said. "To finally be able to break with the big league team and be part of it from the get go is something special and something I’ll never forget."

Both right-handers were competing for the fifth spot in the rotation, but were also out of options, so the Rays were in danger of having to put through waivers (and likely lose) whomever they didn't select to make the roster by the 3 p.m. deadline.

Hammel and Niemann pitched in a minor league intrasquad game Sunday morning, with the Rockies having a scout there to watch. They both waited together at the minor league complex in Port Charlotte until they met individually with Mitch Lukevics, the Rays director of minor league operations, who informed them of the plan.

The competition between friends, which lasted throughout camp and went down until about an hour before the roster deadline, made for a wild experience.  

"It's been crazy," Niemann said. "Both me and Hammel have been doing our best to keep our minds off it and go out there and worry about pitching. But it does get tough when all these things are flying around. And you don’t know what's going to happen. It was relieving to finally have an answer, and now we can get into business and know what we can concentrate on."

- JOE SMITH

joesmith@sptimes.com

[Last modified: Monday, December 21, 2009 12:45am]

    

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