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Rays not tipping hand on Niemann's replacement

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Published:   |   Updated: March 19, 2013 at 06:08 AM

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TORONTO -

Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Jeff Niemann, using extra long crutches borrowed from the training staff of the Toronto Raptors, called his fractured right fibula nothing more than a case of bad luck.

"It's definitely frustrating," the 6-foot-9 Niemann said before Tuesday's game with the Toronto Blue Jays. "If it's an arm (injury) or a back you say why didn't we do more of this, another set or whatever. There's nothing we could have done to prevent this."

Niemann was injured during the first inning of Monday's win when he was struck just above his right ankle by a ball off the bat of Blue Jays first baseman Adam Lind. He was able to finish the inning but knew from the pain that would not subside that he couldn't continue. X-rays at a nearby hospital revealed the fracture. He is expected to miss four to six weeks.

"I think that's probably in the ballpark," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "I don't know, being as large as he is might add something to it."

The Rays placed Niemann on the disabled list before Tuesday's game and recalled right-hander Josh Lueke to fill his spot on the roster. Lueke was added to provide a fresh arm for the bullpen that pitched eight innings Monday.

As for who replaces Niemann in the rotation, Maddon said it won't be Wade Davis. Triple-A pitchers Alex Cobb, who made nine starts with the Rays last season, and Chris Archer, who was the International League pitcher of the week for last week, are the candidates.

"Probably it's going to come from the minor-league area," Maddon said.

Maddon didn't want to elaborate on which one was the more likely choice – although Cobb brings big-league experience – because he didn't want to tip his hand.

The Rays won't need to replace Niemann's spot in the rotation until Saturday, which was to be his next scheduled start. Cobb pitched Monday for the Durham Bulls, so he would be pitching on his normal rest if he is recalled.

By then the Rays will know more about Niemann's prognosis. He will have the injury examined by team doctors this week.

Niemann, naturally, is hoping to return as soon as possible.

"I don't think we know yet how bad the fracture is," he said. "(I'm) trying to stay positive and hope for the best."

He said he yelled at head athletic trainer Ron Porterfield at the hospital on Monday when he learned the results of the X-rays.

"It was surprising. I wasn't expecting to hear bad news, man," Niemann said. "Tell me it's a bruise and that I'll be fine."


rmooney@tampatrib.com

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