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Wade Davis, Jeff Niemann ready to return for Tampa Bay Rays

OAKLAND, Calif. — RHP Jeff Niemann got mad during Friday's simulated game, stepping off the mound when a couple of pitches didn't go exactly where he had aimed.

And he couldn't have been happier about it.

"That was the great thing about it," Niemann said. "We were all ticked off about the lack of location instead of how it felt. It had nothing to do with the arm."

Niemann and RHP Wade Davis both looked, and pitched, as if there were no problems with their previously strained shoulders. And how well they did was the final proof the Rays needed to green-light their return from the disabled list, with Davis set to start Tuesday in Anaheim and Niemann on Wednesday.

"It went really well. They both threw the ball good," manager Joe Maddon said. "Velocities were good, deliveries were good, breaking stuff, everything was good."

Davis threw 43 pitches over three "innings" and Niemann 64 over four, pitching to INF Reid Brignac, INF Dan Johnson, INF/OF Sean Rodriguez and C Kelly Shoppach and throwing as close to game speed and under game conditions — using their full repertoire, sitting in the dugout between innings — as possible.

Actually, Niemann (10-3, 3.12) and Davis (9-9, 4.45) could benefit from the time off.

"I always had the feeling when this happened that they were serious enough to be put on the DL but not real serious, where almost a 15-, 16-, 17-day break might be beneficial for them; where they would come back stronger for the last 5-6 weeks of the season," pitching coach Jim Hickey said. "So hopefully, that will be the case."

SWING KING: LHP David Price is striking out batters at almost twice the rate he was earlier in the season, but he's not saying why.

"I really don't know," said Price, who seeks his 16th win tonight. "It's just how it happens sometimes. I don't really have an answer for it."

Maddon has an idea how Price went from 6.36 strikeouts per nine innings over his first 12 starts to 10.64 over his past 11. And it has to do with improved command of his fastball, specifically in the bottom of the strike zone.

"And it's been really alive," Maddon said. "He's been consistently mid 90s. You saw the swings some of the Tigers took vs. him (Aug. 9), and these are really good hitters. … The fastball has to be pretty electric in the zone if you're getting those kind of swings."

PITCHING IN: RHP Chad Qualls is expected to rejoin the bullpen tonight after missing the past two games due to a death in his family. … RHP Grant Balfour (intercostal strain) is getting closer to being ready, throwing a 40-pitch bullpen session Friday in St. Petersburg. He will throw again Monday and is likely to make a couple of minor-league rehab appearances before a likely Sept. 1 return.

ALL IN?: The Rays declined comment on a Las Vegas Sun story about Mayor Oscar Goodman claiming to have met Monday with a representative of a major-league team about the possibility of relocating if a stadium is built.

Goodman declined to provide details but did say he has "been advised that we are designated as an American League city."

The two AL teams with unresolved stadium issues are the Rays (who typically don't comment on speculative reports) and A's.

MINOR MATTERS: Triple-A Durham clinched its fourth consecutive International League South Division title with a 3-1 win at Norfolk. Rocco Baldelli led the way with a double and home run. LHP Jake McGee got his first Triple-A win, in relief of big-league veteran Ramon Ortiz, who made his first start for the Bulls.

MISCELLANY: The Rays are a major-league best 27-13 when facing a lefty starter as they do tonight and Sunday. … CF B.J. Upton's career-high matching 10-game hitting streak ended. … LF Carl Crawford's hitting streak ended at nine Thursday.

Wade Davis, Jeff Niemann ready to return for Tampa Bay Rays 08/20/10 [Last modified: Saturday, August 21, 2010 1:23am]
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