Tampa Bay Rays
Tampa Bay Rays’ Hernandez has difficult outing
Just when Roberto Hernandez appeared to squeeze all the suspense out of the Rays’ biggest remaining decision of spring training, he may have left the clubhouse door ajar for Jeff Niemann.
The 32-year-old right-hander was cruising along Tuesday with four shutout innings against the Phillies in his final Grapefruit League outing before Hernandez fell apart in a 10-1 setback that marked Tampa Bay’s sixth loss in seven games.
Freddy Galvis capped a four-run fifth inning with a two-run homer and Kevin Frandsen lined a two-run double as Philadelphia added five runs in the sixth against Hernandez, who yielded 11 hits and didn’t register a strikeout while facing 29 batters.
“I didn’t change anything,’’ said Hernandez, whose spring ERA vaulted from 3.00 to 5.33 after his seventh start. “I don’t know what happened. I didn’t try to overthrow.’’
Niemann, competing against Hernandez for the No. 5 spot in the rotation, faces Toronto today in his final start of the spring.
“We’ll wait until (today) to get that all done,’’ Rays manager Joe Maddon said of the decision. “I thought Roberto threw the ball well actually today. A lot of the damage was done on the ground. I thought he had good stuff. Otherwise, we didn’t hit the ball and they did.”
Niemann is 1-2 with a 3.86 ERA this spring and the velocity on his fastball has been down from his usual 92-93 mph range.
The loser of the Hernandez-Niemann competition is expected to be used as a long man out of the bullpen, and Maddon didn’t sound overly discouraged about Hernandez after the Phillies battered him in his final two innings.
“He’s the kind of guy you want to be in the right spots with your infielders,’’ Maddon said. “Roberto was going along really well, but we have to be in the right spots. A ground-ball pitcher throwing the ball on the ground is a good thing. The ball’s going to be in play with him, no question.’’
Zim’s back Rays senior adviser Don Zimmer will be joined by his family to deliver the ceremonial first pitch before the season-opening game against the Orioles next Tuesday at Tropicana Field. Zimmer, 82, is entering his 65th season in professional baseball, and this will be his 54th major-league Opening Day.
This is also his 10th season with the Rays, equaling his most years with one major-league club.
He’ll be back The Rays optioned RHP Brandon Gomes to Durham, giving veteran Jamey Wright, who signed a minor-league contract in January, the last spot in the bullpen.
RHP Juan Carlos Oviedo, who signed a minor-league contract, will be added to the 40-man roster by Sunday’s deadline. He will then be transferred to the 60-day disabled list while he continues to rehab from Tommy John surgery.
“I knew it was a possibility,’’ said Gomes, who allowed only five hits in 101/3 innings and nine relief appearances this spring, posting a 2-0 record. “It’s just how it goes sometimes, it’s how the game works. I’m not happy about it, but that’s how it goes.’’
Maddon said that Gomes, 28, made a lasting impression.
“Brandon Gomes is better than good enough to be a major-league pitcher today,’’ Maddon said. “He deserves to be a major-league pitcher today, but right now we don’t have that particular job for him at this moment. He nailed spring training. He had the best spring training of maybe anybody in this camp, but we decided this is the best way to go right now.’’
Wright, 38, has given up three home runs and seven runs in 10 Grapefruit League innings.
“I’m not worried about it at all,’’ Wright said of his erratic sinker. “It’s spring training. Once Opening Day hits, it will be there. It’s never not been there.”
This marks the eighth consecutive season Wright joined a team on a minor-league contract and made the big squad.
Injury bug Maddon said DH Luke Scott, who was scratched from the last two lineups because of a tight calf, is showing improvement. Scott won’t play today against the Blue Jays, but Maddon is hoping he’ll be ready for the opener.
“It’s got a little knot in it,’’ Scott said Tuesday. “It’s kind of bounced around my body, started in my left leg and now it’s in my right leg. On Opening Day, I really want to be locked in. But I’ve got to make sure that there is no issue.”
Scott missed 45 games for the Rays last year during his two stints on the disabled list.
OF Sam Fuld (hamstring) is slated to play today, his first action since March 3.
Game on Sean Rodriguez provided Tampa Bay’s only run with a third-inning RBI single as the Rays managed only three hits against seven Philadelphia pitchers. Domonic Brown had three hits, including a pair of doubles, to lead the Phillies, who had dropped their three previous matchups against the Rays this spring.
A crowd of 10,582 turned out in windy conditions and 60-degree temperatures at Bright House Field.
Embrace the moment When Maddon was told that Sports Illustrated is picking the Rays to win the AL title before losing to the Nationals in the World Series, he couldn’t contain a wry smile.
“I’ll take it, not the losing part, but I’ll take it,’’ he said. “That’s interesting. It’s very complimentary and I think we’re capable. I love it. You never run away from that kind of stuff.”