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Lower-back strain sends Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Jeff Niemann to disabled list

ST. PETERSBURG — RHP Jeff Niemann is headed to the disabled list with a lower-back strain that will sideline him for an undetermined about of time.

"It's very frustrating," he said.

And that was about the only part of the issue that seemed clear Thursday.

The Rays left for Baltimore having not yet decided how they would fill the open spot in the rotation, though it seems when they do, long reliever Andy Sonnanstine will get the opportunity. The question is whether to have the right-hander take Niemann's start Tuesday or take advantage of Monday's off day, move the other starters up and wait until May 14 to fill the spot.

They also hadn't determined whom they would call up to add to the roster. A reliever would make the most sense, with RHP Rob Delaney (a 1.59 ERA at Triple-A Durham) a top possibility among the pitchers on the 40-man roster and RHP Cory Wade (1.06) another among those who would have to be added.

But with the bullpen rested and the potential for CF B.J. Upton to be suspended as a result of Wednesday's outburst, the Rays might opt to first add an outfielder (Desmond Jennings or Brandon Guyer) and then address the bullpen.

Niemann was seen by the team's back specialist, Dr. Tom Tolli, and had an MRI exam. He said there was no timetable for his return, that it will be based on when he feels better. "It's still pretty stiff and sore," he said.

SHORTSTOP SHUFFLE: Sean Rodriguez started at shortstop and will again tonight as manager Joe Maddon sits struggling Reid Brignac (.206, no extra-base hits) for two days in an effort to stop him from pressing so much. Plus they wanted to see Rodriguez at short.

"I'm fine with Reid, I just think he is totally pressing getting an opportunity to be an everyday shortstop," Maddon said. "My history with him is that he's not one to normally press in those moments, meaning that he's normally reacted well to any kind of situation we've thrown at him. So right now, I just think that he is applying too much to himself. The offensive side of things is really getting to him a bit, and I've asked him to back off."

Rodriguez played shortstop regularly in the minors, but Thursday was just the fourth game he started there in the majors, handling one chance and making a throwing error.

WEDNESDAY FALLOUT: MLB is expected to rule today on any additional discipline for Maddon and Upton, who said he expected a suspension and a fine for his tirade, which included throwing his bat, batting helmet and gloves.

On Thursday, Maddon praised the Joe West-led umpiring crew for acknowledging its mistake on the controversial seventh-inning play at first base, then continued his push for expanded use of replay, saying it could help with calls made from a distance.

He also suggested that MLB officials log controversial calls this season then see if there is a "common thread" that could be addressed with replay.

Also, Wednesday marked the third game in Rays history when both managers were ejected.

REHAB REPORT: LHP J.P. Howell (left shoulder surgery) made the first of five scheduled rehab appearances for Triple-A Durham, striking out one and walking one in a scoreless inning of relief against Syracuse.

MISCELLANY: INF Felipe Lopez cleared waivers and accepted an assignment to Triple-A Durham. … The Rays won their 12th consecutive home series from the Jays (dating to 2007), the longest such streak since the Orioles lost 15 straight at Boston (2005-10). … DH Johnny Damon moved into 75th place on the all-time hit list at 2,600 (passing Tampa native Steve Garvey) and 59th on the doubles list at 490. … Note to the Free Matt Joyce campaigners: He was going to start against Jays LHP Ricky Romero, who ended up being scratched.

Lower-back strain sends Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Jeff Niemann to disabled list 05/05/11 [Last modified: Thursday, May 5, 2011 10:03pm]
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