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Tampa Bay Rays' Jeff Niemann feels strong in return from blister problem

Jeff Niemann takes a no-hitter into the fifth inning and allows three hits in 6⅓ in his final warmup before the regular season.

CHRIS ZUPPA | Times

Jeff Niemann takes a no-hitter into the fifth inning and allows three hits in 6⅓ in his final warmup before the regular season.

ST. PETERSBURG — RHP Jeff Niemann used a bandage for the blister on his right middle finger in Wednesday's exhibition, a luxury he won't have when the regular season begins.

But considering how encouraged Niemann felt after a strong 6⅓-inning start, he doesn't think he'll need one, saying he's ready to go.

"Everything felt good," Niemann said. "It held up great."

Niemann carried a no-hitter into the fifth inning and allowed one run and three hits for the Rays in a 2-1 win over the Future Rays at Tropicana Field. It was his first start since March 26, when he suffered the blister in a 93-pitch outing against the Twins.

Manager Joe Maddon was happy with how the team's fifth starter recovered and bounced back.

"I think everything we tried to build on is there, and the new things we're bringing to the table are kind of there, too," Niemann said. "I feel like all the pitches are ready to go, ready to face whatever can be thrown at us on a daily basis."

LEANING LEFT: LHP Matt Moore felt good after his longest, and final, start of the spring, allowing two runs and seven hits over seven innings against Rays hitters. The one that gave Moore the most trouble was 3B Evan Longoria, who picked up two hits.

"It's great news we've got that guy on our team," Moore said, smiling. "I was having to battle a lot out there."

Maddon said Moore was very sharp and worked a good tempo. Moore said he felt he's right where he needs to be.

"The changeup is still coming along, but with every time, it's making bigger jumps and I'm getting more confidence with it," Moore said. "The curveball is there, has flashes of where I need it to be. … And my fastball location is right where it needs to be."

UPTON UPDATE: CF B.J. Upton (back soreness) went through regular batting practice and is making good progress, though there's no official date for his rehab assignment yet.

Maddon said Upton would likely need at least a week of games, 20-25 at-bats, before returning, saying it's not just his timing at the plate but his conditioning. Upton is eligible to come off the DL April 10, but realistically it's more likely it would happen later in the road trip that ends April 18.

"He's getting better, I just don't know when it's going to actually happen that we'll play him here," Maddon said. "But I want it to be kind of a patient (process). There's no sense in really going crazy right now about it."

ALL OVER: UTL Stephen Vogt, called up from Triple A on Tuesday, played all nine innings between both teams. "I got traded," he joked. Maddon said they wanted to get Vogt time in the outfield, where he'll play some this season. Vogt, who had never played in an indoor stadium before, said he's comfortable in the outfield and showed it in the seventh inning, making a running catch in left-center on a liner. "Once you catch one of those, make that play, it becomes easier," Vogt said. "You know you can do it."

MISCELLANY: Saturday's game against the Yankees is approaching a sellout, but tickets are still available for Sunday's game. … RHP Wade Davis pitched a 1-2-3 inning in relief. … Maddon praised the players on the Class A Charlotte team, many of whom helped the Rays during spring training games. "They demonstrated (Wednesday) afternoon that we have a lot to look forward to," Maddon said. … The Rays unveiled Burst Pass, a stored value card for its season ticket holders that offers a 12 percent cash bonus for every dollar loaded onto their card. Funds can be used to make purchases at the team store, fixed concession stands and restaurants around the ballpark. Burst Pass holders also will receive access to special promotions and discounts throughout the season, according to the Rays.

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@tampabay.com.

Tampa Bay Rays' Jeff Niemann feels strong in return from blister problem 04/04/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 4, 2012 9:40pm]

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