Tampa Bay Rays
Niemann is eager to bounce back
ST. PETERSBURG - RHP Jeff Niemann still doesn't know why his first start after his DL stint last week at Anaheim was so rocky. But he said his side session over the weekend went well, his right shoulder feels fine and he expects to pitch well tonight. "I think we really worked hard these last few days to get things right, and I feel pretty good about where we're at," Niemann said. The Rays' most consistent pitcher earlier this season, Niemann (10-4, 3.67) went on the DL on Aug. 9 with a shoulder strain. He returned Wednesday against the Angels and allowed a career-high 10 earned runs in 32/3 innings. Niemann said at the time he wasn't experiencing any shoulder pain or weakness, and he reiterated that Monday.He said "everything was lacking" in his last start, including the appropriate attitude. "You go through your checklist of things you do, and really nothing is working ... and you feel pretty vulnerable out there," Niemann said. "So we tried to figure out what was wrong and make some adjustments." Manager Joe Maddon said Niemann may have been compensating when his shoulder didn't feel right, and now that he's healthy, he should be able to get his pinpoint command back. "When a guy is hurt just a little bit, you still may see 90 or 91 (mph) because he can grunt or grind and still muster up velocity," Maddon said. "But he can't throw it where he wants to because there's an issue that prevents you from throwing that easy 90-91. "So Jeff is going to indicate how well he's feeling by just his ability to throw his fastball where he wants to." Progress report Some of the Rays' important work Monday night took place in Bradenton, where RHP Grant Balfour (intercostal strain) made his second minor-league rehab appearance and new DH/1B/OF Brad Hawpe started at DH. Balfour, who couldn't find the plate in his first outing for the Stone Crabs on Saturday, started Monday's game and retired the three men he faced. Hawpe took early batting practice at Tropicana Field before leaving for Bradenton, where he went 1-for-2 with a single and two walks. Maddon and hitting coach Derek Shelton watched Hawpe hit, and Maddon was impressed with Hawpe's opposite-field shot over the wall in the left-center nook, noting that he's seen few lefty hitters hit one there even in batting practice. "He's a think guy, kind of wiry, but the ball comes off his bat hot," Maddon said. "He reminds me of (former All-Star) Steve Finley a little bit." Roster talk Maddon was slightly more specific on the roster moves that will be coming the next two days. There might be a move today, since today is the deadline to add players who will automatically be eligible for the postseason. A player who is on the DL can be replaced, though, and the Rays have one such spot with LHP J.P. Howell. Wednesday will bring the September call-ups, and Maddon said the first wave probably will include about four or five players. He said the priorities are adding a catcher for depth and flexibility, a "speed guy" for pinch-running and extra relievers to "thicken" the bullpen. That would seem to point to veteran C Dioner Navarro, who entered Monday hitting .292 with two home runs and 21 RBIs at Durham. OF Desmond Jennings, who leads the International League in stolen bases with 37, is a candidate, as is LHP Jake McGee, who had not allowed a run through Monday in 122/3 innings at Durham. Veteran OF Rocco Baldelli was hitting .300 with two home runs and eight RBIs at Durham entering Monday. Maddon said no decision had been reached on whether RHP Jeremy Hellickson, who went 3-0 as a substitute starter, will be brought back with the first wave.