TORONTO — The Rays claim they are just being cautious and insist they have reason to be optimistic about the outcome. But the reality is that two starting pitchers, Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis, will spend today in MRI tubes and at Dr. Koco Eaton's St. Petersburg office because of soreness in the back of their shoulders, and that isn't good.
"We don't think either one is a long-term situation of any kind, but we want to make sure before we put them back out there," manager Joe Maddon said. "We'll just know more after they're both examined (today); then we'll be able to make more definitive plans."
Maddon said it's possible both will make their next starts, Davis on Tuesday in Detroit, Niemann on Saturday at home. But as an indication of their uncertainty, they held top prospect Jeremy Hellickson out of his scheduled Sunday start for Triple-A Durham so he could pitch Tuesday if needed.
Niemann (10-3, 3.12 and their most consistent starter) already missed his scheduled Sunday start — replaced rather effectively by Andy Sonnanstine — due to soreness that lingered following Tuesday's game. "Jeff keeps telling me, 'I feel better, I feel better, I feel better,' but then it just doesn't want to quite get over the hump so we want to make sure," Maddon said.
Davis (9-9, 4.45) was a tougher read as he, apparently stubbornly, refused to acknowledge that anything was wrong despite a rough Thursday outing in which his velocity was noticeably down.
"A couple days after (the Thursday game) he finally said, 'I'm sore,' " Maddon said. "Okay, well then if you're sore we've got to do something about it, because the last thing you ever want to do is hurt young players."
As confidently as the Rays say there's nothing serious with either Niemann, 27, or Davis, 24, there will be considerable anxiety until they hear from Eaton.
"Sure, there is always concern with that — these are two really valuable people and players for us ," Maddon said. "They just need to be looked at, and we all need to know that we're not going to hurt them by pitching."
SONNY DAY: For a guy who'd made just one appearance since July 18, and at Class A, and hadn't started a game since last year, Sonnanstine delivered. He worked a season-high 51/3 innings, allowing only three hits and one first-inning run.
"I thought Sonnanstine did a great job under the circumstances," Maddon said. "He gave us more than a chance to win."
Sonnanstine, the long reliever before a recent DL stint, said the key was simple, "adding and subtracting" to the speed of his pitches, "trying to get that spread of miles per hour."
His only regret was not taking more time to compose himself after leadoff man Dewayne Wise's line drive knocked off his glove after nearly hitting him in the face, though he made the play. "If I don't get my head out of the way I think I eat it," he said.
He walked the next hitter, then with two outs allowed the run on a bloop single that regular 1B Carlos Peña might have caught.
ON THE OTHER HAND: RHP James Shields said one of his issues Saturday, when he allowed a modern MLB record-tying six homers, was not getting in rhythm with rookie C John Jaso.
Though Shields has better numbers with veteran Kelly Shoppach catching — a 3.06 ERA in four games compared to 6.75 in 11 games with Jaso — Maddon said he doesn't plan to start matching them up and doesn't blame Jaso for what happened Saturday. "Jaso didn't throw one pitch," Maddon said.
MISCELLANY: The Rays had struck out 17 times in a nine-inning game twice, at Boston on May 6, 2000, and April 8, 2001. … LF Carl Crawford returned to the lineup after two days to rest his sore body but was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. … The Rays were swept for the second time, first on the road. … Official scorer Dave Perkins, a longtime newspaperman working his third game, said he had no doubt on ruling Longoria's ninth-inning ball off diving 2B Aaron Hill's glove a hit.