DUNEDIN — RHP Jeff Niemann said his fourth inning Friday was just a "bonus," a chance to get up and down one more time and increase his pitch count.
But that's when Niemann ran out of gas and the damage was done as the Blue Jays ripped four consecutive hits to chase the 6-foot-9 Texan.
"It wasn't exactly as sharp and as hard as it was early on," Niemann said. "I had 10 pitches to work with, usually that's one or two hitters. And it turned out to be five hits and eight pitches."
Despite Niemann's worst statistical outing of the spring — four runs, eight hits in 3⅓ innings (66 pitches) — he and manager Joe Maddon were happy with how he threw.
"I thought he pitched pretty well," Maddon said.
Niemann said he was working on several things, specifically his slider, which he threw twice as much as he would have in a regular-season game, and he got three outs with it. "That was huge."
It wasn't quite as smooth as Niemann's previous spring appearances, including his three-inning, 27-pitch gem his last time out. But as Niemann competes with RHP Wade Davis for a rotation spot, Maddon believes Niemann needs to just "stay on the same course."
"We're going to turn the corner here pretty quickly," Niemann said. "I feel good, feel strong."
CATCHING ON: C Jose Molina was encouraged about how he felt after catching back-to-back games for the first time in two years, saying he plans to do it again next week.
"I didn't have any expectations, didn't know how I was going to feel," Molina said. "So it was just easier to know that it feels good."
There have been questions how many games Molina, 36, can play this year, since he has spent his career as a backup with a career high of 81 starts in 2008. But that just motivates him.
"It's a challenge for me that I want to be good, I want to stay healthy and prove a lot of people (wrong) that never believed that I could do it," he said.
MEDICAL MATTERS: CF B.J. Upton said he is feeling better but his lower back remains sore from Wednesday's outfield collision with LF Desmond Jennings.
Maddon said there's an "outside chance" Upton plays Sunday, but if not, definitely Tuesday after the off day.
"It's no big deal, just waiting on it to get ready; it's just sore," Upton said. "They said it's just like when you're in a car accident: when everything feels better, it feels better."
Upton said he hasn't had to go for X-rays or MRI exams.
OF Matt Joyce said he left Thursday's game because he jammed his left wrist, and it was sore after a slide into second and an attempted diving catch. He said he expects to play today.
CATCHING ON: Maddon said C Robinson Chirinos' concussion could impact his availability for the opening day roster. Chirinos, who was competing for the second catcher spot, has been sidelined since suffering the injury Monday. There's no date for his return.
GAME DETAILS: The Rays were held hitless until OF Brandon Guyer's bunt single to lead off the sixth in a 5-0 loss to the Jays. … Jennings, in his first game since Wednesday's collision, walked twice, stole a base and made a sliding catch. … Maddon praised RHP Dane De La Rosa, who struck out four straight Jays in 1⅔ innings and RHP Matt Bush for his 1-2-3 seventh inning.
Times staff writer Marc Topkin contributed to this report. Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]om