ST. PETERSBURG — RHP Wade Davis is making it tougher on hitters by taking it a little easier on the mound.
Part by design, part by the way he typically builds arm strength into a season, Davis is throwing with less velocity and getting more outs.
"Every year I come in after spring training and I've always been a little down, and toward the second half I always pick it up,'' Davis said. "And this year's a little different just because I'm trying to pitch a little more instead of just relying on stuff. My command's a lot better of the strike zone, I can attack hitters a lot easier being more relaxed.''
The decline isn't much, just a few miles per hour, as Davis is throwing his fastball in the 89-92 mph range. And the results have been good, as he's 2-1, 1.80 over his past three starts.
"Watching him out there, I can't really complain a whole lot about the results,'' manager Joe Maddon said. "The one thing we've been talking about with him a lot is staying in his delivery. And I think, okay, you can get 95 elevated in bad spots or you can get 92-91-90 in a good spot located with him staying in his delivery, which I also believe extends arm life, too. So as of right now, I'm liking what he's doing. I like the feel. He's using all of his pitches. He's pitching. He's not just out there throwing.''
After loading the bases in a 27-pitch first, Davis retired the next 10 and threw 72 over the next six innings.
DOWNHILL SLIDE: RHP Jeff Niemann makes his fourth try for his first win tonight making a concerted effort to make more use of the natural downhill plane his 6-foot-9 frame provides.
"It's everything," Niemann said. "When I get the ball up, everything flattens out. Every single one of my pitches become less effective. So for me, keeping the ball down and having that good quality angle allows me to get away with more mistakes. And my good pitches are better."
Maddon said he saw signs of Niemann's past success during his last start against the Twins, when he went seven innings, but not to the extent before Niemann went on the disabled list in August with a shoulder strain. In 10 starts since, Niemann is 1-7 with an 8.87 ERA. Before the DL stint, he was 10-3, 3.12, and 13-6, 3.94 the season before (a combined 23-9, 3.58).
"Physically, he's fine … everything's right,'' Maddon said. "He's just not throwing the ball where he wants to and he's not throwing the ball down like he did when he was very good last year consistently.
"If he's been doing all that stuff and he's struggling then you'd be a little more concerned, but he's not. He's off a bit. But I see him definitely making some strides in the right direction."
HANDY MEN: LF/DH Johnny Damon tested his bruised left ring finger with a few batting practice swings but felt too much discomfort, but was available to pinch-hit or -run. Damon, hurt Sunday, could return tonight. "He's doing a lot better, he just wasn't 100 percent," Maddon said. 1B Dan Johnson returned at DH after missing two games due to a sore left wrist.
J.P. DUTY: LHP J.P. Howell starts a planned 10-game rehab assignment with appearances for the extended spring team in Port Charlotte Friday and Monday, then with the Class A Stone Crabs April 28 and May 1.
MISCELLANY: OF Matt Joyce has multiple hits in six of his past nine games, batting .485. … C Kelly Shoppach and Damon presented certificates to nine Plant City High students who are captains of the Action Team, a program that encourages community volunteerism. … RHP James Shields became the first Ray to reach the 1,000 innings mark. The Rays are 4-0 in one-run games for the first time in team history.