SARASOTA — RHP Jeff Niemann threw the ball relatively well in Thursday's 4-3 win over the Orioles. But he didn't throw it hard, clocked mostly at 85-86 mph and topping out an 88, below his normal velocity.
Rays manager Joe Maddon said there is no concern that Niemann, who was shut down at the end of last season because of shoulder inflammation, was injured: "He was not wincing. There were no issues."
Niemann said he was throwing that way by design, using primarily cutters and two-seam fastballs during the 71-pitch outing. His priority was movement rather than velocity, which is normally 90-91 mph for him. He allowed four singles — two in the infield — walked three and struck out three.
"I think the gun's a little off," Niemann said. "We're definitely going more movement right now; we're able to execute and get those bad swings and get those weak-hit balls. For me, it's more important what the hitter's telling me than what the radar gun says."
Maddon noticed the reduced velocity but also the results.
"He got sharper as the game was in progress. His velocity came up to 87-88 on occasion but definitely had good movement," Maddon said. "He was fine. There were no issues. … He just did not have that normal velocity. As long as he's well, I'm sure that's going to show up. The thing that I liked was the fact that the ball continues to move so much."
Niemann, 30, is competing with Roberto Hernandez for the final rotation spot. Though the bullpen is a possibility if Niemann doesn't get the job, a trade seems more likely. There was at least a question, if not a concern, among scouts Thursday about his shoulder strength given the diminished velocity.
HANDS OFF: The Rays scored the decisive run on an unusual call, Wil Myers, who had doubled and moved up on a wild pitch, was sent home when the umpires nabbed C Luis Exposito using his mask to scoop the ball in front of the plate. Exposito thought time was called.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter said the call was correct but the rule is bad: "What purpose does it serve? The ball is 2 feet in front of home plate and you are going to decide a ballgame with that?"
PITCHING IN: RHP Jeremy Hellickson worked in a minor-league game rather than pitch against the Orioles, since he is likely to face them in the second game of the season. Things didn't go too well in his 3⅓ innings on the back field, though, as he allowed three runs (two earned) on four hits, four walks and a hit batter, with three strikeouts, throwing 70 pitches (41 strikes). … LHP Jake McGee pitches in a minor-league game today, then for the Rays on Saturday in his first back-to-back outings.
GAME DETAILS: The Rays (12-7) took a 3-0 lead on a Kelly Johnson walk, an Evan Longoria double and a homer by Luke Scott to right-center off LHP Mike Belfiore. … The Orioles tied it on a three-run homer by Matt Wieters off RHP Juan Sandoval, who has struggled after an impressive start in the spring. "I thought it was a fly ball but it was really long," Sandoval said. "A couple of rough outings lately. … I'm feeling in good shape." … Maddon called on impressive minor-league RHP Kirby Yates to get the final out. After a walk, Yates struck out L.J. Hoes.
MISCELLANY: 3B coach Tom Foley missed the game and likely will miss a few others due to a family matter. … The crowd of 8,797 was an Ed Smith Stadium record. … INF Tim Beckham played for the first time since getting eight stitches to close a cut under his right eye after being hit by a thrown ball March 8. … OF Sam Fuld continues to step up his activity but might not return from right hamstring tightness until next week; he has been out since March 3.