ST. PETERSBURG — The numbers on the stat sheets provide a pretty good indication of how well OF Matt Joyce is doing right now: a .369 average that leads the American League, a .417 home mark that's top in the majors, a .479 clip over his past 14 games.
But also telling were the four fingers Orioles manager Buck Showalter held up for an intentional walk when Joyce, with a homer and a single already, came up in the sixth with a man on second.
"You want a chance to drive them in,'' Joyce said, "but it shows a sign of respect, I guess. So take it with a grain of salt."
Joyce, who has five homers in his past 12 games, is trying to keep his explanations as simple as his approach. "I'm seeing (the ball) pretty well," he said. "I can't control whether the hits fall or not. I try to have good at-bats and put a good swing on it. That's it."
ON THE MEND: RHP Jeff Niemann said his strained lower back is feeling "definitely a lot better" and he has made "quality progress." But it could be well into June before he returns to the mound. Niemann, out since May 4, likely won't start playing catch for another five to seven days. Then, he said, he will be on a throwing program for two weeks and likely will need one or two rehabilitation starts.
TOUCHING TRIBUTE: The Rays "retired" the radio signs of three slain St. Petersburg police officers by painting them on the back wall of the Trop — K-2 for Jeffrey Yaslowitz, S-23 for Thomas Baitinger, 143-B for David Crawford. "It's just something small we can do to honor the memory of these guys," manager Joe Maddon said. Members of the officers' families and Rays players participated in the brief ceremony. Yaslowitz's son, Caleb, then threw out the first pitch.
J.P. DUTY: LHP J.P. Howell came through his back-to-back rehab appearances for Triple-A Durham fine despite a rough line Thursday (2/3 inning, three hits, four runs, 24 pitches) and remains on schedule to rejoin the Rays next week.
He will make a final appearance for Durham on Monday, then likely rejoin the Rays' bullpen Thursday in Toronto, just before the one-year anniversary of his shoulder surgery.
"To this point, everything's been well and he's feeling great," Maddon said.
When Howell comes back, he will switch from No. 39 to 74 in tribute to his longtime pitching instructor, Guy Dubets, who died recently from diabetes.
The number came from the alphabet — 7 for the G, 4 for the D — the thought from the heart.
"He was my coach since I was 11 and played a crucial role in who I am as a pitcher today," Howell said. "I never got to repay him properly. So this is about the only way I could think of."
UPTON DOWN: CF B.J. Upton returns today from his two-game suspension, and Maddon hopes it's like he never left.
"His whole game has been elevated — offensively, defensively, his baserunning has been outstanding," Maddon said. "I told him, 'Listen, man, I know you have to sit out two days, but don't lose that edge; you've been fabulous.' It's as good of a complete game as I've seen him play."
YOU COMPLETE ME: Friday was the third time in Tropicana Field history that both pitchers threw complete games. The others were Sept. 4, 2003 (Jorge Sosa, Seattle's Ryan Franklin) and Aug. 22, 1999 (Rolando Arrojo, Kansas City's Jose Rosada).
MISCELLANY: The Rays are a majors-best 17-4 when scoring first. … RF/2B Ben Zobrist's streak of runs scored ended at 10 games. He shares the major-league lead at 31. … The Rays did early work to go over bunt defenses in advance of next week's interleague series at the Marlins. … OF Sam Fuld will sign autographs 10-11 a.m. today at Tampa's Triple Play Sports Cards, 2219 S. Dale Mabry Highway; prices start at $15.