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Tampa Bay Rays starter Jeff Niemann shows progress in fourth start off disabled list

TORONTO — The way the fourth inning started Sunday, it looked as if RHP Jeff Niemann was headed for another unhappy ending.

His first three starts since coming off the disabled list had gone bad, and with three runs in on two hits, two walks, a sac fly and his own error on what would politely be called a flip to the plate, this one was headed the same way.

But Niemann showed something — to himself and to his bosses, who had the bullpen ready — by getting the next two outs to get out of the inning, then following with a 1-2-3 eight-pitch fifth.

"He settled in," manager Joe Maddon said. "He settled in good. I think he finally felt something there. I thought his confidence got better, and in his last inning, I thought he threw the ball like Jeffrey normally throws the ball. I was happy to see that."

So was Niemann.

"I think a lot of positives came out of today, some things to build on," he said. "The ability to come back after you kind of go through some weird things that happened, some adversity out there, I was able to bounce back and come out there and have that clean inning. It was a matter of going out there and keep fighting, not giving in."

Niemann still has some work to do, specifically on his still-lacking fastball command. And his defense, as he fielded Aaron Hill's bases-loaded dribbler and rushed a backhand flip that sailed over C Dioner Navarro's head.

"That's PFP (pitchers fielding practice) that you run on Field 3 during spring training, I don't know, probably three or four times a spring," Maddon said. "He had more time than he thought, and he really shoveled the backhand, which he's not used to doing. He could have just normally flipped it like you would, and that's what got him in trouble."

HELP COMING: LHP Jake McGee is expected to be called up and join the bullpen as soon as today. McGee, dazzling since the move from Double-A Montgomery's rotation to Triple-A Durham's bullpen, would join Randy Choate as a second lefty and provide a different look, as he throws hard and has been able to get out left- and right-handers.

RECORD DAY: Choate tied RHP Shawn Camp's 2006 team record by making his 75th appearance, setting a career high in the process.

"It means I'm doing my job if he's putting me back out there and getting the lefties out," Choate said. "I'm fortunate I don't throw a ton of innings (42 total) so I'm able to go back out there all the time. It's nice."

Choate, 35, is about to complete his first full season in the majors after spending most of the previous 10 going up and down. He gets a $25,000 bonus to his $700,000 salary for making 80 appearances.

MINOR MATTERS: Triple-A Durham advanced to the International League championship round for the fourth straight year, beating Louisville (Reds) 4-2 in Game 5 of the opening round, with JJ Furmaniak leading the way. The Bulls open the best-of-five finals at Columbus (Indians) on Tuesday. … Class A Charlotte stayed alive in the best-of-five Florida State League championship series with a 2-1 win at Tampa (Yankees). Minor-league strikeout king Matt Moore had 10 K's in six innings. Game 4 is 7 tonight at Steinbrenner Field.

MISCELLANY: 3B Evan Longoria matched his career high with his 44th double. … Brad Hawpe made his seventh career start at first base.

Tampa Bay Rays starter Jeff Niemann shows progress in fourth start off disabled list 09/12/10 [Last modified: Sunday, September 12, 2010 11:45pm]

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