Rays may use Niemann, Hernandez in rotation

Jeff Niemann watches from the dugout during the Rays’ spring training game against the Orioles at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota on Thursday. Niemann went 4⅓ innings gave up four hits, one run, walked three and struck out three.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

Jeff Niemann watches from the dugout during the Rays’ spring training game against the Orioles at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota on Thursday. Niemann went 4⅓ innings gave up four hits, one run, walked three and struck out three.

So the best decision in the fifth-starter competition between Jeff Niemann and Roberto Hernandez might be to not really make a decision and end up using both.

Manager Joe Maddon said Saturday that they'll make their call by midweek, and whoever isn't picked will go to the bullpen. That's not much of a surprise, because Niemann's trade value isn't going to be very high after an unimpressive spring. And it makes the most sense given the Rays' ultimate goal, which is get the best 32 or 33 starts from that slot in the order.

So begin the season with Hernandez, who offers the ability to log innings, which is helpful early in the season anyway and even more on a staff of young starters missing James Shields. Slot him between Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore to protect the bullpen depth if one or both comes up short. And have Niemann work occasionally out of the pen, building and conserving arm strength.

Then if/when Hernandez struggles — his 33-48, 5.01 record from 2008-11 was among the game's worst, and he missed most of last season due to identity-fraud issues — flip them and turn to Niemann, who when healthy can run off a string of dazzling starts.

The key to the plan is the bullpen not being overworked given the limited contributions Niemann or Hernandez can make. If the worst thing is that both are pitching well, and the rest of the rotation is healthy, they could deal one during the season, knowing they have Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi in reserve at Durham.

ROSTER RULES: Tuesday is the deadline to either put RHP Jamey Wright on the 25-man roster (where he'd make $1 million) or the disabled list, release him or pay him a $100,000 retention bonus to keep him in the minors (with a June 1 opt-out). Same for RHP Juan Carlos Oviedo, who is recovering from reconstructive elbow surgery and thus is likely headed to the DL, the Rays holding a 2014 option for $2 million plus incentives. … Though the season opener isn't until April 2, the Rays have to set their 25-man roster March 31.

RAYS RUMBLINGS: Head athletic trainer Ron Porterfield was chosen to work the All-Star Game. … Blame Dominican manager Tony Peña for using Fernando Rodney too much in the WBC if you want, but it wasn't, as some suggest, because he is a Yankees coach. … New Rays TV crew member Kelly Nash is excited for her first on-air baseball-only gig. She has been with the ACC Network since 2011, is a native of Davie and has master's degrees from Miami and Clemson. … ESPN analyst Mark Mulder tweeted that Rodney was clearly tipping his pitches in the WBC based on the location of his hands during delivery. … RHP Joel Peralta's stiff-neck-from-getting-a-sandwich was second on ESPN's Jayson Stark's list of strangest spring injuries. … Principal owner Stuart Sternberg is among those featured in the upcoming 560-page book American Jews and America's Game: Voices of a Growing Legacy in Baseball. … Congrats to Craig Vanderkam, who gets a full-time gig with the Rays PR staff and is sure to work eight times as hard. … Maddon said he thought the WBC was more of an event this year and he'd be interested in being involved if games were played in Europe. … Is the "Welcome Home" advertising theme really just a subliminal push for more offense?

. fast facts

Roster report

The sixth of our guesses on the makeup of the 25-man opening day roster:

Pitchers (12): Alex Cobb, Kyle Farnsworth, Jeremy Hellickson, Roberto Hernandez, Jake McGee, Matt Moore, Jeff Niemann, Joel Peralta. David Price, Cesar Ramos, Fernando Rodney, Jamey Wright-x

Catchers (2): Jose Lobaton, Jose Molina

Infielders (6): Yunel Escobar, Kelly Johnson, James Loney, Evan Longoria, Ryan Roberts, Sean Rodriguez

Outfielders (5): Sam Fuld, Desmond Jennings, Matt Joyce, Luke Scott, Ben Zobrist

x-minor-league contract

Rays may use Niemann, Hernandez in rotation 03/23/13 [Last modified: Saturday, March 23, 2013 8:59pm]

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