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It might have taken more than half the season, but DH/OF Jonny Gomes has finally played his way into the everyday starting lineup.

Gomes, who hit his fourth home run in the past five games Wednesday, had started eight straight games entering tonight's series opener against Baltimore, with 36 starts in 44 games since he was recalled from Triple-A Durham on June 11.

He has hit .299 with 11 homers (one every 12.5 at-bats) since his return. Gomes, 26, began the season low on the depth chart and fought for playing time until he was optioned to Durham on May 28. With Ty Wigginton's departure, at-bats will be even more plentiful.

"It's just the everyday at-bats to me," Gomes said. "When you're playing every day, I can take my 0-for-2 with two walks ... but when you're playing once a week 0-for-2 with two walks ... you start swinging out of your zone and start pressing because you want a week's worth of numbers in one game."

Knowing he's going to get regular at-bats has eased Gomes' mind.

"I know tomorrow's going to come," he said. "When you're not playing every day, tomorrow could be in Durham, it could be not in the lineup. But now it's just whether I'm going to DH or play the outfield. I know when tomorrow's going to come."

NIEMANN SHELVED FOR NOW: "Reports were good" on Triple-A Durham RHP Jeff Niemann's sore right shoulder and "everything was sound structurally," according to the Devil Rays.

As a precaution, however, Niemann - who left his last start after just five pitches - will miss his next two starts. He will remain on a throwing program and won't go on the disabled list. His next start is scheduled for Aug. 15.

The Rays' No. 1 draft pick in 2004 was enjoying his first injury-free season and was 11-5 with a 3.90 ERA. His 108 strikeouts in 1151/3 innings are second in the International League.

AKI ON THE RUN: The Rays are 18-12 when 3B and leadoff hitter Akinori Iwamura scores. He scored No. 44 on Wednesday on Carl Crawford's two-run homer in the sixth. He enters tonight on an eight-game hitting streak, including six multi-hit games, and has hits in 13 of his past 16 games.

MISCELLANY: Quick-rising infielder Evan Longoria made his Durham debut Thursday. He went 0-for-3 with a sacrifice fly... Durham RHP Jae Seo allowed six runs, including two homers, on 10 hits over 51/3 innings Wednesday. Demoted RHP Shawn Camp made his first appearance at Durham and pitched a scoreless inning. ... The Rays' wives are hosting a school supplies drive to benefit foster children of the Safe Children Coalition from 5:10 until the end of the second inning tonight and Saturday, collecting at Gates 1 and 5. ... Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer is scheduled to sign autographs from 5:10 to 6:10 Saturday night as part of Hall of Fame Night. ... The new Rays office in downtown Tampa (Park Plaza, 400 N Tampa Ave.) will be open 10-6 weekdays starting Monday.