TORONTO — When Jeff Niemann stayed in the game to face, and retire, another batter Monday after being hit on the right leg by a batted ball in the first inning Monday, the Rays figured the big right-hander was fine.
But watching how he walked out and warmed up for the second inning, they sensed all was not well, and X-rays confirmed it.
Niemann sustained a small fracture in the fibula, just above his ankle, and will be lost for at least four to six weeks and potentially several months.
"It's a tough break, literally," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "It's not easy to lose a pitcher of his caliber."
The Rays, who went on to win the game against the Blue Jays 7-1, were in the process of deciding how to replace Niemann in the rotation. Wade Davis, who moved to the bullpen when Niemann won the final spot in spring training, would be the logical choice, but Maddon said they value his contributions as a reliever, so they could turn to one of their Triple-A starters, with Alex Cobb and Chris Archer the top candidates.
"We haven't obviously decided anything yet but I like what (Davis) is doing in the bullpen," Maddon said.
The loss of Niemann is the latest blow to the injury-ravaged team. He will be the eighth player on the disabled list, following outfielder Desmond Jennings, who was placed there earlier Monday.
Making it worse, Niemann was coming off his best start of the season.
"It's a big loss," Maddon said. "We're constantly having our depth tested. He's been steadily getting better with what he's been doing and he's one of our guys, when he gets on a roll, he gets on this really good roll. So the impact will be felt based on his replacement and the work that that person does."
Niemann, on crutches with his foot in a walking boot, declined to talk to the media after the game, undoubtedly frustrated by the news.
Niemann had two on and one out in the first when he was hit on the right foot by a ground ball by Adam Lind. He was able to recover to make the play for the out.
Maddon and head athletic trainer Ron Porterfield came out to check on him, and he threw a few warmups and finished the inning, retiring Edwin Encarnacion on a groundout.
"I knew it hit him square in the foot," catcher Chris Gimenez said. "It was one of those things where all the coaches came out and I didn't want to say anything, but I can tell he's hurting. But I definitely didn't know he had anything broken. He threw some good pitches (to Encarnacion)."
Niemann had the foot taped between innings, but when he went out for the second Maddon immediately noticed he wasn't walking right, and Maddon was more concerned when he saw him take a few warmup throws. "I didn't like the way he was walking and then watching him throw, I didn't like the way he was throwing," Maddon said.
Then when Maddon went out to talk to Niemann, he knew. "He just did not have a good look about him at all," Maddon said.
Though technically the fifth starter, Niemann has assumed a larger role in the rotation, especially with the struggles of rookie Matt Moore. He was 2-3, 3.48 in his first six starts.