Thursday, May 24, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Rays pay close attention to Niemann

PORT CHARLOTTE — RHP Jeff Niemann has the drill down by now.

Come to camp with questions about his job status. Get watched closely throughout the spring. Win a spot at the end.

And after a season in which he made only eight starts due to a pair of injuries, and an offseason in which the Rays signed free-agent RHP Roberto Hernandez to compete with him for the final spot in the rotation, Niemann knew to expect more of the same.

And noticing the group of coaches and team officials flock to watch his bullpen session during Wednesday's opening workouts made it obvious.

"Every year, they're always watching me," Niemann said. "I don't know why. Everyone's always watching me. But that's fine. It took me three pitches and you see the whole kind of migration happen. They going to see (David) Price? No, they're going to watch me. It's all right. It's part of the deal."

Niemann, who was sidelined with a broken leg then a sore right shoulder, said he is healthy, and he showed it during a crisp workout.

"I was very happy with it," he said. "I was throwing a lot of strikes. As far as a Day 1 bullpen session goes, it was probably one of the better Day 1 bullpens I've thrown. I'll take it."

Manager Joe Maddon agreed: "He looked really good. Effortless. Threw the ball where he wanted to. Mixing up different pitches. I saw all that. … He says that he's well, he looks well, we'll just evaluate it as we go on."

ARMS SUMMIT: Maddon was pleased overall with the pitchers' conditioning and form. Among those he singled out were Price, RHP Fernando Rodney, LHP Mike Montgomery (acquired from the Royals), LHP prospect Enny Romero and Hernandez.

"Up and down the line, there's so many good arms," Maddon said. "Everybody who threw today, they all did something pretty good and they all looked to be in great shape."

THE ZO SHOW: INF/OF Ben Zobrist was atypically among the early reporting position players, a combination of wanting to get some extra work since he is playing in the World Baseball Classic and having a few appearances at area churches where he speaks and his wife, Julianna, sings.

"It's just the way it worked out," Zobrist said. "We wanted to get down and get settled a little bit and get started."

The Zobrists had a show Wednesday in St. Petersburg and have another Sunday at First Baptist Church of Tampa, Feb. 21 at First United Methodist in St. Petersburg and Feb. 23 at Lakewood Ranch's Harvest United Methodist.

Also reporting Wednesday were INF/OF Kelly Johnson and OFs Desmond Jennings and Matt Joyce, making it 12 position players in ahead of Sunday's first full-squad workout. OF Wil Myers is expected in camp this morning.

MISCELLANY: A trade remains a possibility for INF Reid Brignac, in limbo after being designated for assignment last week. … Forty of the 42 catchers and pitchers worked out, missing only RHPs Dane De La Rosa (who was invited Monday after clearing waivers) and Juan Sandoval (visa issues). … Maddon and LHP Matt Moore are guests on tonight's Countdown to Opening Day radio show at 7 on 620-AM with Andy Freed and Dave Wills. … The Rays are unlikely to have an interest in 1B/DH Mike Carp, who was designated for assignment by Seattle.

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