RHP Jeff Niemann (strained lower back) took another step toward returning to the rotation Monday by throwing 45 pitches in a simulated game.
"We were going full-bore, everything felt great," Niemann said. "I think I'm ready to take the next step."
His next step will be a three-outing minor-league rehab assignment that will begin with 60 pitches and increase to a 90-pitch outing.
"We want to look at everything and pop him in at the right time so when he's ready to come back it's at the appropriate moment within our rotation," manager Joe Maddon said.
Niemann, who went on the disabled list May 6, threw mostly fastballs Monday but mixed in enough of his off-speed and breaking pitches to put his back to the test. Maddon was as encouraged as Niemann was with the workout.
"I started watching him in the bullpen and I liked it a lot out there," Maddon said. "He was throwing the ball good. It was like a normal workout for him in the middle of the season."
Joyce gets a lefty
RF Matt Joyce, who began the day with a major league-high .365 average, got the start Monday against Rangers lefty Derek Holland. Joyce entered the game batting .182 in 22 at-bats against lefties.
When asked if it was a good opportunity for Joyce to show what he can do against lefties, Maddon said, "I want him to show us, I want it to work. (I've) just been trying to pick the right moments to move it along."
Joyce singled in each of his first two at-bats.
RHP Alex Cobb will be recalled from Triple-A Durham and start tonight against the Rangers. Cobb allowed four runs in 41/3 innings during his major-league debut May 1 against the Angels.
He will take the spot of Andy Sonnanstine, who pitched in relief Monday.
1B Casey Kotchman (right ankle sprain) was not in the lineup Monday and likely won't be for a couple days. The good news, Maddon said, was he doesn't think Kotchman's injury, suffered while sliding into second base Sunday, will result in a trip to the disabled list.
"(Head athletic trainer Ron Porterfield) said he's sore, but not bad, not horrible," Maddon said. "It actually may not be that long of a deal."
The Gold Glove
UTL Ben Zobrist presented LF Sam Fuld with a small gold glove after Friday's game for an outstanding defensive play Fuld made during the win against the Indians.
"Someone gave it to me and told me to give it to Fuld as a gag," Zobrist said. "I gave it to him and told him to give it to someone else after they made a great play. I told him if he makes another good play he could give it to himself."
On Sunday, Fuld presented the glove to UTL Sean Rodriguez for a play Rodriguez made while playing first base.
Zobrist said that is the newest of the many rituals the Rays have.
Florida State football coach Jimbo Fisher visited with Maddon and media members on the field before the game and sons Trey and Ethan threw first pitches to third-base coach Tom Foley and CF B.J. Upton.
During batting practice, Ethan, 5, who battled a serious undisclosed health issue this spring, wowed observers by pitching to his brother out of the stretch. Upton threw pop-ups to the boys.
DH Johnny Damon, whose job it is to cut the sleeves off his teammates' shirts in time for Wednesday's grunge dress theme on the flight to Seattle, said he only received six shirts.
Damon, who told his teammates they have to cut it themselves if they don't give him a shirt by today, said he's running into some difficulty carrying out his task.
"They don't make left-handed scissors," he said.
RHP Jeremy Hellickson's 1.36 ERA this month is the second-lowest May ERA in club history behind Scott Kazmir's 1.22 in 2008. … Zobrist will visit second-grader Kaleb Gates' class this morning at Skyview Elementary School in Pinellas Park as part of the Take Zobrist to School program. … The Rays began play Monday with a 1.85 ERA in their 13 wins this month and a 5.45 ERA in their 12 losses. … Maddon said he will invite Lightning coach Guy Boucher and his players to the Trop, and any player who wants to take batting practice is welcomed. "They're good lowball hitters," Maddon said. "Their strike zone is different. It's from the knees to the toes."
Roger Mooney, Tony Fabrizio