DETROIT — The bad news for the Rays on Monday was that RHPs Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis were placed on the 15-day disabled list with right shoulder strains.
But manager Joe Maddon actually felt encouraged with Monday's MRI results, anticipating both DL stints would be minimal and precautionary. And he remained confident in their internal options stepping up, with top prospect RHP Jeremy Hellickson called up to start tonight for Davis and RHP Andy Sonnanstine potentially filling in Saturday for Niemann.
RHP Mike Ekstrom was recalled from Durham to add bullpen depth.
Niemann and Davis were sent to St. Petersburg over the weekend to be examined after feeling soreness in the back of their shoulders. To the Rays, this could have turned out worse.
"We're really confident that both are going to be well within a short period of time," Maddon said. "This is one of those cautious moments. I would think maybe if it was closer to the playoffs you might react differently and do something a little bit different to keep them off the disabled list. But for right now, we just thought it was the prudent thing to do to make sure. These are two valuable people to us, and we want to make sure it's all done right, and we think we have the resources from within to get beyond this moment."
If the DL stints end up being longer, it could be a significant blow to the rotation. Niemann (10-3, 3.12 ERA) had been one of the Rays' most consistent starters. Davis had won four straight until Wednesday's loss, when his fastball velocity was down. A couple of days later, he told the Rays he felt soreness.
Sonnanstine, who pitched 51/3 strong innings Sunday against the Blue Jays, could fill in Saturday. But with an off day Thursday, LHP David Price could get the nod on regular rest. Maddon said they haven't decided yet.
STEPPING IN: Hellickson said filling in for an injured teammate is not how he wanted to get called up for the second time in a week, but he's excited to be back.
It has been a whirlwind seven days for Hellickson, who made his dazzling debut Aug. 2 against the Twins, giving up two runs over seven innings then getting optioned down right after. Hellickson, who was held out of his scheduled start Sunday in Durham, arrived in Detroit on Monday afternoon.
He said having the emotional and nerve-wracking experience of his debut under his belt can help him entering tonight.
"I think it means a lot," Hellickson said. "It was probably the most nervous I was last time the day before (my start). I really don't feel like that again. So getting that one under my belt probably helped a lot."
Maddon said Hellickson might have more comfort and be "more at ease" this time, especially on the road. "But knowing Jeremy the way I do, if he's throwing the ball where he wants to, he's going to be fine," Maddon said. "If he's not, he's not going to be fine."
LINING UP: In an effort to jump-start a struggling offense, Maddon tweaked the lineup, moving LF Carl Crawford and 3B Evan Longoria down to the third and fourth spots, respectively.
Crawford and Longoria have been mainstays at Nos. 2-3, but Maddon said his reasoning was to put two of his best on-base percentage hitters, C John Jaso and Ben Zobrist, ahead of them.
Maddon spoke with Crawford and Longoria before making the move, saying both were on board, and acknowledged it'll be more than a one-day trial.
Said Maddon: "It's something that's subtly different but can make a big impact."
The two combined to go 3-for-10 with two RBIs Monday. Crawford, who entered in a 1-for-16 skid, welcomed the change.
"What we've been doing hasn't been working, so if he wants to shake things up, I'm all for that," he said. "Nothing has been happening in the two hole, so might as well try something different."