BALTIMORE — The first road trip of the year didn't start well.
The Rays sat idled in a plane at St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport for more than three hours Sunday night, due to a mechanical issue with their first Continental charter, then waiting for a replacement plane to arrive and be loaded.
"That was a first for us," said longtime travel director Jeff Ziegler, "having one plane pull up next to the other one and having to abandon ship."
The delay wasn't that bad as they ate, played cards and — on the second plane — watched TV.
"It really didn't affect us at all," RHP Jeff Niemann said. "If anything it was a team bonding experience."
The most interesting part of the process was that the Continental pilots were driven from St. Pete-Clearwater to Tampa International and flew the replacement plane back across the bay. The Rays arrived in Baltimore around 11:45 p.m.
PITCHING IN: Niemann has no limitations when he returns to the mound tonight after throwing just 12 pitches before leaving his first start after being hit on the right shoulder by Miguel Tejada's line drive.
The only adjustment was delaying his between-starts bullpen one day to Sunday. "We really did everything that we'd normally do during the (days) in-between," Niemann said. "Hopefully it shouldn't be an issue."
Manager Joe Maddon said Niemann should be "capable of his 100 pitches."
HANGING IN: Maddon said that despite the rough weekend results he'll continue using LHP Randy Choate in key situations against left- and right-handed hitters.
The Rays asked Choate, previously a lefty specialist, to work more on pitching to right-handers so they could use him for longer stints and want to stick with that plan since he is their only lefty given J.P. Howell's injury. Maddon acknowledged: "We're asking him to do things he doesn't normally do."
Choate, after allowing a two-run homer Sunday to righty-swinging Jorge Posada, said he might have been trying to do too much differently (such as throwing his fastball to right-handers) and it had affected his primary pitch, his sinker.
"I don't like to abandon things very quickly just because it doesn't work right out of the chute," Maddon said. "Overall he did a pretty good job in spring training. He does need to sink the ball, there's no question. That's what he does the best, and we'll continue to work on that. But overall, just continue to work on getting better against righties, because he's going to need to face some as the season gets going along."
TUNING IN: Overnight ratings for the first five games shown on local TV (Saturday was a Fox national game) are up significantly over the same period last year, according to AC Nielsen data distributed by FSN/Sun Sports. The average rating of 5.3 is a 141 percent increase over the 2.2 for the first five games of last season (though two were weekday day games).
"All across Florida, the popularity of the club continues to grow, and the ratings certainly reflect that," team president Matt Silverman said. "It is a very compelling team to watch and follow."
MINOR MATTERS: RHP Joaquin Benoit handled his first back-to-back outings at Triple-A Durham, allowing two one-out singles before saving Monday's 4-2 win (and maintaining his 0.00 ERA). … INF/DH Hank Blalock hasn't played for Durham since Thursday due to soreness in his right thigh but is expected back soon. … OF/DH Matt Joyce returned to the lineup Monday, having left Saturday's game after being hit on the elbow; he remains limited to DH duty as he recovers from an elbow strain.
MIsCELLANY: SS Jason Bartlett extended his Camden Yards hitting steak to 17 games. … Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps was at the game.