Tampa Bay Rays' Jeff Niemann leaves comeback early with arm injury

Jeff Niemann looks impressive in his first action since May 14 before leaving in the fourth inning with right arm tightness.
Jeff Niemann looks impressive in his first action since May 14 before leaving in the fourth inning with right arm tightness.
Published Sept. 2, 2012

TORONTO — RHP Jeff Niemann couldn't have felt better the way his afternoon started as he sailed through three innings of his first game since breaking his right leg May 14. But the way it ended left him hoping he'll be able to pitch again soon.

Niemann left one batter into the fourth with what he and the team would only describe as "right arm tightness," refusing, mysteriously, to say even what part of the arm was at issue.

Manager Joe Maddon, who also used the term "soreness," said it was "nothing awful," like "a dead-arm kind of a thing."

But Niemann sounded less sure. "There's no answer right now," he said. "We're just being careful with it, and making sure."

Though the Rays weren't going to put Niemann back in the rotation, they were planning for him to make a few starts designed to provide rest for the others, as well as an experienced option if someone else got hurt.

"It's unfortunate to have a little hiccup, or whatever," Niemann said. "We're hoping for the best and hoping to come in (today) and everything is going to be all good, and go from there."

With the bullpen having to cover 52/3 innings after his early departure, the Rays will add RHP Brandon Gomes for today's game. Gomes was 5-4, 3.09 with nine saves at Durham, 2-2, 6.94 in 10 games with the Rays.

To make room for Niemann to be re-added to the 40-man roster, INF Will Rhymes, who hit .228 over 47 games in several stints, was designated for assignment.

THE BIG 4-0: Fernando Rodney's milestone 40th save was his most difficult, the first in which he had to work more than one inning, and his first five-out save since April 2007. "It wasn't easy," Maddon said.

Rodney walked his first batter in the eighth to load the bases, then struck out the next two, and walked the first batter in the ninth, escaping on B.J. Upton's game-ending throw to the plate.

Rodney said the rustiness was the result of a lack of work, one inning in the previous 10 days. "Too much rest, physically and mentally," he said.

Rodney is the fourth Ray with 40 saves, and the fourth in MLB history to get to 40 with an ERA under 1.00.

END OF THE ROAD: The two-run homer LHP J.P. Howell allowed to Edwin Encarnacion ended his team-record streak of 271/3 scoreless innings, and the bullpen's streak of 181/3.

Howell was summoned unexpectedly when Niemann left one batter into the fourth and blamed himself for not being prepared. "That's on me," he said. "I've got to be ready, got to be prepared. I was sitting back enjoying the game a little too much, and that's what happens."

FACE TIME: INF Elliot Johnson didn't look good the morning after his game-ending collision at home plate, the right side of his face bruised in several places (and coated with ointment), his cheek swollen so much that putting the contact lens in his right eye took 10 minutes, his right hip so sore it hurt to walk. The good news was that there were no serious injuries, he passed the MLB-mandated concussion test and he was available to play if needed.

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PRICE CHECK: LHP David Price said he won't have any different approach today coming off his rough last outing in Texas. Maddon said there is no reason for concern given how well he had done previously. "He'd been pretty much perfect to that point," Maddon said, "so he just came back to human-kind."

MISCELLANY: New OF Ben Francisco arrived during the game and pinch-hit in the ninth, popping out. … RHP Wade Davis got the win. … Dirk Hayhurst, the author/pitcher who last played in 2011 for Triple-A Durham, was in the clubhouse pre-game, now doing radio and TV in Toronto. … RHP James Shields was headed home early to be rested for Monday's 1:10 Labor Day matinee.