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Rays notes: Final spot in rotation still up for grabs

Published:   |   Updated: March 28, 2013 at 04:55 PM
PORT CHARLOTTE -

The decision on which pitcher earns the final spot in the rotation may not be revealed until Friday morning, manager Joe Maddon said Wednesday.

Maddon said they are still talking it through, and with the Rays breaking camp after Wednesday’s 6-1 loss to the visiting Blue Jays all the parties involved will not be together again until Friday.

So, Jeff Niemann and Roberto Hernandez will wait a little longer to learn who joins the rotation and who heads to the bullpen.

“I’m proud of the body of work we presented and let things happen how they’re going to happen,” Niemann said Wednesday of his chances after he breezed through six scoreless innings of two-hit ball.

Niemann finished the spring with a 2.92 ERA in 242/3 innings. His velocity is still a tick off – he reached 88 Wednesday – but the movement on his pitches has been midseason form.

Hernandez, who was roughed up during the final two innings of Tuesday’s outing against the Phillies, had a 5.33 ERA in 27 innings. He allowed 16 runs to Niemann’s eight. The former Cleveland Indian who signed as a free agent in December has been able to keep the ball on the ground, the result of his sinker.

“It’s going to be a tough decision,” Maddon said.

The decision, Maddon said, will be based on which pitcher projects better as a starter. How each pitched this spring will play a factor as will their history and what the Rays forecast from each this season. Maddon said Hernandez’s sinker will play well with the Rays’ improved infield defense. Niemann, he said, has the ability to get on a roll and run off a stretch of solid outings.

“Just like (Wednesday) he’ll get into cruise control and go through two, three, four innings very quickly just based on weak contact, ball in play,” Maddon said. “His velocity is still not back where he wants it to be, but the movement and the command was there.”

Niemann said his velocity will increase to the 89-91 range that makes his pitches more effective. As for the possibility of heading to the bullpen, he said he will react to that if it happens.

“I feel really good about how we’re throwing the ball right now,” he said. “I know that’s going to work on how we get guys out. From my perspective that’s all I can focus on.”

Fuld returns Any questions about OF Sam Fuld’s right hamstring were answered Wednesday when he returned to the lineup for the first time since he suffered the injury March 3.

Playing left field against the Jays, Fuld ran hard to first base to try to beat out a bunt but was called out. He also ended the fifth inning with a running, sliding catch that took him across the warning track along the left field foul line.

“The way these things go you tend to get tested right away and of course that was the case,” he said.

The most important part of the afternoon, Fuld said, came in the outfield as he chased after the baseball.

“You’re going from a standstill and trying to get to full speed as soon as possible, so it’s a big test,” he said.

Rodney returns, too Given a week’s rest after returning from pitching in eight games for the Dominican during the World Baseball Classic, closer Fernando Rodney worked a perfect inning Wednesday.

“Outstanding. You can see game-ready,” Maddon said. “The ball really jumping out of his hand. I know it’s always like that with him, but it was just smoother, the ball’s got that great carry at the end. He’s definitely ready for the season.”

Scott improving DH Luke Scott put his tight right calf to the test Wednesday by jogging. He said he will return to the lineup as soon as he can run, which he is scheduled to do today.

Scott said he expects to be in the lineup Tuesday when the Rays begin the regular season.

“I should be ready. That’s my gut feeling,” he said.

Price has the tickets LHP David Price will give away 100 tickets for Opening Day this weekend for the K-9 section down the right field line. He said he will give them to fans he sees in the Tampa area wearing Rays gear.

Follow his twitter account – @DAVIDprice14 – for more information.

Noteworthy The Rays traded RHP Dane De La Rosa to the Angels on Wednesday for RHP Steve Geltz. Geltz, 25, made two appearances for the Angels last season but spent the rest of the season between Double-A and Triple-A. He was assigned to Triple-A Durham. … Limited tickets are available for Opening Day. The Rays are expecting a sellout. … Among the new items added to the concession stands at the Trop this season are fried dough with fruit toppings, beignets, hand-carved turkey sandwiches, and an all-natural stand in Centerfield Street.

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