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Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Jeff Niemann encouraged by first good outing of season

STILL CLIMBING: Johnny Damon, hitting a single in the opener, passed Ed Delahanty for 76th on the career hits list.

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STILL CLIMBING: Johnny Damon, hitting a single in the opener, passed Ed Delahanty for 76th on the career hits list.

MINNEAPOLIS — RHP Jeff Niemann lost his bid for a no-hitter in the seventh — and yes, he was aware of it — but he otherwise couldn't have been more pleased with his performance as he won for the first time after four rough starts.

"It's something that I needed," he said. "The team's been playing so well and I felt like I was that guy that's stopping the momentum the whole time. So it's great to keep the momentum going and just get a win. It's great."

Niemann finished with seven solid innings, allowing one run on two hits, with one walk and two strikeouts. The biggest difference from his first four starts, in which he allowed 19 runs (16 earned) and 28 hits in 20 innings, was that he kept the ball down, he had a very good curve and he worked off his fastball.

"I know that has to do a ton for his confidence," manager Joe Maddon said. "That was very big because that really can get him back in a groove. He's a guy from a couple years who taught us that he may struggle a bit but when he catches fire he gets really hot. And hopefully this is the game that is going to catapult him. He looked more like he did prior to his injury last year."

S-ROD HURT: INF Sean Rodriguez dislocated his lefty pinky during a freak sequence in the eighth when he slid into second base and his hand collided with Twins SS Matt Tolbert's foot.

"All my fingers were pointing one direction and that one was pointing in the other one, and I said that's not supposed to do that," he said.

Rodriguez said an MRI exam showed there was a tear in the ligament, but he hoped to be able to play through it and avoid going on the disabled list. The Rays won't make any decisions until seeing how swollen it is today and whether he can grip a bat.

DH BLUES: The April 13 rainout in Boston will be made up as the matinee portion of a day-night doubleheader Aug. 16. The Rays had hoped to play on Aug. 15, a mutual day off when they would already be in Boston after playing in New York. But the Red Sox, who will be coming back from Seattle, wanted to wait until the 16th. The teams already have a day game scheduled for Aug. 17, so they will play three times in about 27 hours.

TWEET THIS: OF Sam Fuld, at the urging of the master, David Price, joined the Twitter world and had more than 4,000 followers by the end of Thursday. Fuld said he'll Tweet himself and may use the forum to raise awareness, and even money, for juvenile diabetes efforts. He had to use @SamFuld5 for his account because — who knew? — there is another legit Sam Fuld out there and on Twitter. "I'm looking at David as my role model," Fuld said. "I don't know if I can fill those shoes."

REHAB REPORT: LHP J.P. Howell worked a 1-2-3 first inning in his rehab start for Class A Charlotte, striking out one and throwing just nine pitches (then 16 more in the bullpen). He's set to make the fourth of his 10 scheduled rehab appearances on Monday, aiming for mid May return after missing all of last season with a shoulder injury that required surgery.

MINOR MATTERS: RHP Dirk Hayhurst, the popular writer/blogger/Tweeter off to a solid start at Triple-A Durham (1-0, 2.42 in four starts), was placed on the DL with a sore elbow. RHP Jeremy Hall was promoted from Double-A Montgomery to take his place. … RHP Jake Thompson, a prospect at Class A Charlotte, left his Wednesday start after two innings due to elbow tightness.

MISCELLANY: When Evan Longoria returns to the No. 3 spot in the order, Ben Zobrist and Matt Joyce are the likely choices for the cleanup spot, Maddon said. … The temperature rose 16 degrees from the start of Game 1 (41 degrees) to Game 2 (57). … A day/night doubleheader isn't technically considered a doubleheader, but this was just the second time in the 17 times the Rays had two games in one day that they won them both; also, at Baltimore, Sept. 23, 2008. … DH Johnny Damon not only extended his hitting streak to 16 games, longest for a Ray in April and three off the overall team mark, he also took over 76th place on the all-time hits list with 2,595.

Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Jeff Niemann encouraged by first good outing of season 04/28/11 [Last modified: Friday, April 29, 2011 1:33am]

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