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Jeff Niemann solid in final outing before Tampa Bay Rays pick No. 5 starter

FORT MYERS — With the decision due this morning, RHP Jeff Niemann completed his case to retain his spot in the rotation with a solid five-inning outing in Monday's 10-4 win over the Twins.

"It went pretty good," Niemann said. "It's kind of that point in the spring where you try to go out there and throw everything and pitch pretty similar to how you're going to throw in the regular season, and I think we were kind of able to do that (Monday)."

The only blemishes in his 93-pitch outing were three walks (his first in four big-league spring starts) and a home run on a 2-and-0 fastball to Ryan Doumit leading off the second.

"I liked Jeff's performance," manager Joe Maddon said. "He was a little bit up with his fastball, but I liked his stuff overall and I thought he pitched well."

Niemann, who has added a cutter to his repertoire, is 1-2, 4.05 in his four starts (plus a minor-league outing) and seems likely to stay in the rotation with RHP Wade Davis (1-2, 4.91 in five) going to the bullpen.

Maddon said team officials were still discussing the decision. Also to be set is the order behind opening-day starter James Shields. LHP David Price is No. 2, but they appear to be deciding between RHP Jeremy Hellickson and rookie LHP Matt Moore for the third game, pondering the advantage of starting a lefty against the Yankees.

MEDICAL MATTERS: OF Desmond Jennings (sore shoulder) got five at-bats in a minor-league game in Port Charlotte and was to play catch, with the possibility he could DH today against the Red Sox. … SS Reid Brignac (plantar fascia problem, right foot) went 2-for-5 with a homer in a minor-league game and "moved around well," Maddon said, but his status for opening day remains uncertain. Brignac said his condition has progressed to "uncomfortable but tolerable." … CF B.J. Upton (sore back) said he felt "a lot better" and took 20 swings and did some running, but he wasn't ready to play in a game. His availability for the April 6 opener is also uncertain. … OF Sam Fuld got an MRI exam on his sore right wrist and will see a doctor today, with surgery likely.

PITCHING IN: The decision between RHPs Burke Badenhop and Brandon Gomes for the final bullpen spot is also coming "soon," Maddon said. The Rays want to take one more look at Gomes, who has yet to regain full velocity in recovering from offseason back surgery. … Shields will pitch in a minor-league game today rather than face the divisional opponent Red Sox, with RHP Kyle Farnsworth starting and most of the bullpen in action.

GAME DETAILS: The Rays took an early 7-1 lead on homers by Ben Zobrist and Elliot Johnson (his first RBIs) and an RBI single by Jeff Keppinger (hitting .375). … CF Jesus Feliciano apparently lost track of the number of outs when catching a fly in the fifth allowing one run but throwing out the second runner who was trying to score.

Jeff Niemann solid in final outing before Tampa Bay Rays pick No. 5 starter 03/26/12 [Last modified: Monday, March 26, 2012 9:18pm]
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