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Rays' Niemann strong in final rotation bid

Jeff Niemann pitches six shutout innings against the Blue Jays in his final bid to be named the Rays’ fifth starter.

CHRIS ZUPPA | Times

Jeff Niemann pitches six shutout innings against the Blue Jays in his final bid to be named the Rays’ fifth starter.

PORT CHARLOTTE — RHP Jeff Niemann felt pretty good about his showing Wednesday and the spring overall in the competition with Roberto Hernandez for the final spot in the rotation.

Now the Rays will take another day or two to make what manager Joe Maddon called "a tough decision."

"I think at the end of the day it's just how we feel about it moving forward," Maddon said. "Both have represented themselves well. It's what are we looking at, what kind of projection are we seeing from each one as the season is going to begin, and trying to look down the road a little bit."

Hernandez has seemed to be the likely choice, especially given the need for a starter to work extended innings with James Shields traded and three young pitchers in the rotation.

But Niemann has had the better spring after missing most of last season with a broken leg and being sidelined at the end with shoulder inflammation. Though his velocity remains down — he was mostly at 86 mph Wednesday, hitting 88 a few times and 89 once or twice — he has used his full repertoire with good movement and results.

He worked six shutout innings in the 6-1 loss to Toronto, allowing two hits and striking out three, and has a 2.92 spring ERA. Hernandez has a 5.33 ERA after a good outing went bad Tuesday.

"Best I've thrown the ball all spring," Niemann said. "It's been a huge building process this whole spring, and I couldn't be happier about how we ended up. … I'm proud of the body of work we presented. So let things happen how they're going to happen."

Niemann, who works best at 89-91 mph, said he is confident his velocity is still "going upwards; it hasn't plateaued yet."

Whichever pitcher isn't chosen will be used in long relief, a role neither has much experience in. A decision was expected Wednesday, then Maddon said today, and now it sounds as if the Rays will wait until Friday as they set up the rotation behind ace David Price.

SCOTT BETTER: Luke Scott strolled across the clubhouse to illustrate that the right calf tightness that sidelined him the past few days had subsided and said he felt he would be available for Tuesday's season opener.

"I should be ready, that's my gut feeling," he said.

Scott split the day between getting treatment, doing exercises and taking batting practice in the cage, but from the team's perspective the key to his return will be running, which he is expected to do today at the Trop. If all goes well, he could be cleared to DH on Friday.

Scott, who had hamstring tightness earlier in camp, said he thinks the problems resulted from drinking too much water, which flushed electrolytes from his system and was "causing my muscles to tighten up."

PITCHING IN: RHP Fernando Rodney looked sharp in his first action since returning from the World Baseball Classic, working a 1-2-3 inning and striking out two, the last on a 94 mph fastball. … RHP Alex Cobb worked four innings in a minor-league game, allowing two hits and striking out six while throwing 57 pitches.

DE LA ROSA TRADED: The Rays swapped one reliever with mixed minor-league numbers for another, acquiring RHP Steve Geltz from the Angels for RHP Dane De La Rosa.

Geltz, 25, was just taken off the Angels' 40-man roster and will join Triple-A Durham. He pitched in two games for the Angels last season — both against the Rays — while going 3-0, 0.36 in 21 games at Double-A Arkansas and 0-1, 5.08 in 25 at Triple-A Salt Lake.

De La Rosa, 30, pitched five games for the Rays last season after spending most of the year at Triple A, where he was 0-4, 2.79 with 20 saves. He was taken off the Rays' 40-man roster just before spring training.

GAME DETAILS: The Rays (15-16) lost for the seventh time in eight games. … They led 1-0 into the eighth, but two errors and a Colby Rasmus grand slam off minor-league RHP Kirby Yates led to six runs. … Rays SS Yunel Escobar tripled in Sean Rodriguez.

MISCELLANY: OF Wil Myers, who had been sidelined with a sore right wrist, returned for Triple-A Durham and went 0-for-2. … RHPs Nick Barnese (a third-round pick in 2007) and Joe Cruz were released from minor-league camp. … The Rays averaged 5,349 for their 17 home games at the Charlotte Sports Park. … First-pitch temperature was 57 degrees.

Rays' Niemann strong in final rotation bid 03/27/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 27, 2013 9:15pm]
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