Tampa Bay Rays
Rays Notebook: Maddon likes Niemann performance
SARASOTA - The radar gun reading on the scoreboard at Ed Smith Stadium wasn’t kind to RHP
Jeff Niemann, showing his top speed at 88 mph during Thursday’s 4-3 win against the Orioles.
Yet, both Niemann and manager Joe Maddon were more concerned with what Niemann’s pitches did on their way toward home plate than how quickly they arrived.
“We’re definitely going for more movement right now,” Niemann said. “We were able to execute and get those bad swings and get those weak-hit balls. For me, it’s more important what the hitter’s telling me than the radar gun says.”
Throwing mostly his two-seam fastball and cutter, Niemann’s velocity was down by 4 mph, yet he allowed three hits and walked three in his 42/3 innings. Two of those hits did not leave the infield.
“That’s always good to see, the weak-hit ground ball,” Niemann said. “Of course, some of those are going be a hit sometimes, but it’s definitely a good sign when that’s happening.” Niemann missed the final month of last season because of slight inflammation in his right rotator cuff. Maddon said that is not a concern. “He’s fine. There were no issues,” Maddon said. “Velocity started out low, then it came up a little bit. But the movement was good and he was not wincing. There were no issues. He just did not have that normal velocity. As long as he’s well, I’m sure that’s going to show up. The thing that I like is the fact the ball continues to move so much.” In a normal spring, the plan would be for RHP Fernando Rodney to pitch seven to nine times. But, add Rodney’s work for the Dominican in the World Baseball Classic to his work with the Rays earlier in camp and he’s already past seven innings.
Rodney had three one-inning appearances before joining the WBC. He entered Thursday night’s game having pitched in all four of the Dominican games, throwing a total of 31/3 innings.
Add that to the innings Rodney pitched in winter ball, and the Rays closer has pitched a lot since the end of the 2012 season.
“The difference with Fernando is that he pitched so much prior to that to get ready for that, the winter time preparation, the winter ball preparation was a little different, more intense,” Maddon said. “And these games are more intense. I don’t know what that is going to mean yet, but I would like to believe he would be able to get off to a good start based on that, and then really watch it afterwards. I’m not overly concerned yet. We’ll sit down and evaluate it when he comes back.”
Rodney, whose fastball was clocked at 98 mph Tuesday against Italy, will exceed the nine-outing cap this spring no matter how much the Rays rest him when he rejoins the team.
“You don’t want to have everything go away, want to keep him sharp,” Maddon said. “But once he comes back, the inning’s intensity is not going to be what it had been the last couple of weeks. I don’t know the answer. I’m not really concerned right now. It’s something to watch when he comes back.”
The Rays scored the winning run in the ninth inning when RF Wil Myers, who was on third base after doubling to left field and advancing on a wild pitch, was awarded home plate when Orioles C Luis Exposito tried to pick up the baseball with his mask after blocking the pitch.
3B Evan Longoria had an RBI double and DH Luke Scott followed with a home run to right-center in the third inning.
Rookie RHP Kirby Yates, who had 16 saves last year at Double-A Montgomery, came on with the tying run on third and two out in the ninth. He walked DH Russ Canzler before striking out LF L.J. Hoes to earn the save.
Members of the organization will shave their heads before today’s game with the visiting Phillies to raise money for the Pediatric Cancer Foundation. Fans who donate $100 to the PCF can also have their heads shaved. “Fortune Favors the Bald” T-shirts go on sale Friday for $15.99, with the proceeds benefiting the PCF. Fans can donate by texting “Cut” to 50555 to make a $10 donation or visit www.pcfcutforacure.org. … INF Tim Beckham (laceration under right eye) returned to action Thursday. … 3B coach Tom Foley left the team for several days to attend to a personal matter. 1B coach George Hendrick coached 3B on Thursday. … Attendance was an Ed Smith Stadium record 8,797.