PORT CHARLOTTE — The reason RHP Wade Davis was chosen for the No. 3 spot in the pitching rotation and RHP Jeff Niemann slotted fourth turned out to be as clear as night and day.
Niemann has a much worse record in day games than at night (5-5, 5.54 ERA vs. 22-11, 3.84) and with the pitcher in the No. 3 spot in line to start seven matinees in the first two months, the Rays opted to go with Davis, who has a much less dramatic split: 3-4, 3.95 in day games, 11-8, 4.04 at night.
Niemann said he had no explanation for the discrepancy and no issues with the Rays decision to make him No. 4.
"Around here, I think that's just a number," he said. "We've got any one of five guys that can run out there any night and win a ballgame. We've talked about it, that it was a matchup thing with the day games and all that. Whatever's best for the team, I'm more than willing to oblige."
Davis said he welcomed the opportunity. "Niemann's a great pitcher; he could easily be No. 1 in any rotation," he said. "I don't know that it had anything to do with performance or anything like that. I think it's just how it played out, and I'm happy where I'm at."
CRUZ CONTROL: RHP Juan Cruz closed out Friday's 7-3 win over the Red Sox for his sixth scoreless appearance, and feeling good, and that combination appears to be enough to earn one of three open bullpen jobs.
"He's doing really well right now," manager Joe Maddon said. "He just needs to stay healthy and I think everything's going to work out pretty good for him."
Cruz had surgery to clean out his right shoulder in May, cutting short his season in Kansas City, but has recovered enough that the Rays don't appear to have restrictions or concerns about using him, though he has yet to pitch with less than two days rest between appearances.
"Actually he wants more work," Maddon said. "We've been holding him back a bit."
"All I can say is I'm ready," Cruz said. "Everything, I think, is good."
PITCHING IN: No. 2 starter RHP James Shields worked 51/3 innings a minor-league game in Fort Myers rather than face the Red Sox varsity, allowing three runs on eight hits, a walk and a hit batter and striking out seven. … Though the Rays have kept starters from facing AL East opponents, RHP Jeremy Hellickson will go against the Yankees Monday so he can get some innings vs. big-league hitters.
N.Y. STATE OF MIND: Add the New York Post's Joel Sherman to those publicly pondering the idea of principal owner Stuart Sternberg buying the Mets and the Rays being contracted. Sherman wrote that he floated his "theory" by a "person involved in baseball labor" and was told it had been discussed, but it would "be difficult" to enact because folding two teams would cause a war with the players union during the upcoming negotiations.
GAME DETAILS: The Rays (9-10-1) hit four home runs off Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, somewhat regular shots by Ben Zobrist, Kelly Shoppach and Evan Longoria and a massive blast by Manny Ramirez that went over the berm and the walkway beyond the leftfield fence. "That," on-deck hitter Matt Joyce said, "was sick." … RHP Joel Peralta may have had the most impressive accomplishment, though, beating ex-Ray Carl Crawford to the base for an infield out. … Crawford made a diving catch to end the sixth. … Elliot Johnson stole his seventh base of the spring, and Shoppach stole what he said was his first ever in a big-league uniform. … RHP Andy Sonnanstine was generally pleased with his 81-pitch, 41/3-inning start despite four walks (including Crawford with the bases loaded), saying it was "a big step" in throwing quality changeups.
MISCELLANY: Zobrist got his second spring start at 1B, with plans for more to increase his comfort factor in advance of regular-season duty. … Friday's game drew 7,740, the second sellout of the spring (both vs. Boston).