Friday, January 19, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Tampa Bay Rays keep Wade Davis in bullpen, plan to call up pitcher from minors to replace Jeff Niemann

TORONTO — RHP Wade Davis started 68 games, and another in the playoffs, for the Rays over the previous two-plus seasons. But with RHP Jeff Niemann sidelined for six or more weeks with a broken leg, the Rays' plan is to summon either RHP Chris Archer or RHP Alex Cobb from Triple-A Durham and keep Davis in the bullpen.

The reason, manager Joe Maddon said, is because of how well Davis is doing in relief.

"If we can spot one of our young guys and keep him doing what he's doing," Maddon said, "I think it makes us better."

Davis said he agreed with the decision, and the reasoning: "It's something right now that's going to be beneficial to the team.'' Plus, he said he would need two-three starts to get stretched out properly.

Davis has pitched relatively well, with a 2.04 ERA in 12 appearances, but hasn't pitched in significant situations, primarily long and middle relief. But Maddon said the potential he has shown is intriguing enough.

"Part of it is I really like where he's at in the bullpen," he said. "I think he's done a great job and he's getting to the point where he and his body are understanding it better. … I like him there. I'm not afraid of him in a hot moment because he's been there before."

Davis essentially "lost" his rotation spot to Niemann in spring training as the Rays made room to add rookie LHP Matt Moore, so it would seem he would have been in line to get it back.

Maddon acknowledged "there's definitely that case to be made" and said they had not "closed the door" on Davis going back to the rotation, but not now.

The open spot in the rotation comes up Saturday against the Braves; both Archer and Cobb have been pitching well, and both will be rested.

Cobb, 24, is more experienced, having gone 3-2, 3.42 in nine starts for the Rays last year before August surgery to remove a blood clot and part of a rib. He has been inconsistent at Triple A but had a solid five-inning (though 99-pitch) outing on Monday and overall is 1-4, 4.14.

Archer, 23, has no big-league experience, and only 10 starts at Triple A, but has what Maddon called "a little bit more dynamic arm" and has been pitching very well, 2-0, 2.00 over his past three starts, 3-4, 4.71 overall.

BUT FIRST: The Rays moved first to bolster their bullpen and called up RHP Josh Lueke from Durham.

Lueke, who didn't pitch well after starting the season with the Rays, did not exactly earn the promotion, posting numbers — 0-2, 8.10, a combined 26 hits and walks in 131/3 innings — he called "horrendous."

But the more deserving candidate, RHP Brandon Gomes, was "unavailable," Maddon said, saying he didn't know exactly what the issue was.

DOWN AND OUT: Niemann was frustrated and disheartened as much by being sidelined as by how it happened, struck on the leg by a ground ball in the first inning Monday.

When head athletic trainer Ron Porterfield told him late Monday that X-rays showed a small fracture and he would be out for an extended period, Niemann yelled at him.

"It's definitely frustrating," Niemann said. "It still hasn't really set in yet. If it's your arm or your back it's why didn't I do one more set of this (exercise). This is just, there's nothing we could have done to prevent this."

Niemann, who went on the 15-day disabled list, said he will see team doctors today for further testing to determine the severity of the fracture, hoping for good news that could lead to a shorter timetable. But Maddon said six weeks is a good working number, with Niemann's hefty size, 6 feet 9, 295 pounds, a potential complicating factor.

MATSUI MANIA: DH/OF Hideki Matsui, who seems likely to join the Rays as soon as he is deemed ready, played his first game at Triple-A Durham on Tuesday and went 0-for-4.

MISCELLANY: The eight players on the disabled list are the Rays' most since 2009, when they had nine. … INF Elliot Johnson extended his career-high hitting streak, and his longest stretch of consecutive starts, to seven games. … The Rays are 9-3 in one-run games.

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