ST. PETERSBURG - A day after heralded rookie Evan Longoria made his big league debut, another former number one pick, Jeff Niemann, gets his chance on the grand stage.
The fourth overall selection in the 2004 June Amateur Draft, Niemann closes out the Rays series against the Orioles Sunday at Tropicana Field and manager Joe Maddon thinks he is ready for the task.
"I's like to see what he did in spring training repeat itself," he said about the 6-foot-9, 280-pounder. "I really thought he threw the ball well there. When this guy keeps the ball down and because of the sever angle he throws, it's very effective. And then he's got other stuff, the breaking pitches are good and that little split. I really believe he's ready for this. It's the right moment."
All the skipper wants from the 25-year old is to be himself, which is exactly the same message delivered to Longoria the day before.
Many thought the lanky righty from Houston would have been here by now but some physical setbacks have slowed his progress through the Rays' system.
However, when healthy, he has showed that he can be a force as witnessed by his selection to the International League All Star Team and picked to play in the All Star Futures Game. He chose to appear in the latter due to the closeness of game dates.
At Durham in 2007, the graduate of Rice University was 12-6 with a 3.98 ERA and when he was informed of his call to the big club he was 1-1, 3.27 in a pair of starts limiting the league to a .195 batting average.
"He's already thrown 85-pitches in a game this year so he is in that 100 range," said Maddon when asked if there was a limit on Niemann. "He should be fine. If he gets there, fine."
Maddon pointed out that due to circumstances beyond his control, the number of injuries, that some players like Longoria and Niemann would still be plying their trade at triple-A although both deserved to be here after the spring they had.
"Of course we're not trying to rush anyone," he said. "But in this situation, based on what I saw in spring training I wouldn't consider it a rush."
If anything, having the talents of a Longoria and Niemann waiting in the wings shows how deep the organization is as opposed to previous years where it was a struggle to find 25 bodies to fill out a roster.
"We have nice depth, we do in a sense. Although it is inexperienced depth. That matters when you are talking about the five stages of a major league player. These guys are very young, very inexperienced and not at the point where they feel like they belong here. If it happens that they help us to win right now, wonderful."
The one thing Maddon doesn't want is to expect too much from them until they get their feet wet although he knows they will help the team in the lone run. For now it is more trial and error than anything else.
Clearly, just because Longoria and Niemann are here does not mean they will stay. Performance and growth will ultimately determine how long they will remain in St. Petersburg.
TOOT, TOOT: TBSN Radio 510 President and Operations Officer presented Rays' Senior Advisor Dick Crippen a check for the Rays Baseball Foundation as a way of supporting the Drop The Devil Program inaugurated when the team changed their name.
NOWHERE BUT UP: Pitcher Matt Garza threw yesterday and felt good after and is on pace to return after his 15-day stint on the disabled list is over. Manager Joe Maddon says that Garza will likely pitch somewhere on a rehab assignment before being activated. The injury was simply an irritation and not a strain and was happy the training staff got on top of it as soon as they did to limit the amount of time he will miss. Lance Birkins is scheduled to pitch with Scott Kazmir on Tuesday although Kazmir is closer to a return than Birkins.
PLAYING FIRST, #42, PLAYING SECOND, #42....: The Rays will celebrate Jackie Robinson Day with all players donning the retired number. Maddon says he likes the idea and said it was the idea of reliever Al Reyes. It was put to a vote and approved unanimously. Last year only one Ray wore the number, Carl Crawford.
SATURDAY LEFTOVERS: Evan Longoria's first big league hit was an RBI single ..... Jason Hammel worked a career best 7.0 innings ..... He threw 103 pitches, 65 going for strikes ..... Carlos Pena continues to swing the bat with authority as he leads the majors in homers with six ..... It was measured at 373-feet ..... The ninth inning homer allowed by Dan Wheeler was the first run allowed by the right-hander this season ..... Elliot Johnson made his first career start in the infield when he started at short.
BIRD'S NEST: After Saturday's one-run victory the Orioles are 3-1 in those contests. ..... Of Baltimore's seven wins entering Sunday, five have been come-from-behind (3 runs (once), 2 runs (twice) and one run (twice) ..... In those seven games they have scored 44 runs but in the four losses they have tallied just twelve ..... Aubrey Huff is a career .236 hitter in March and April entering this season. So far he has logged a four hit game, one with four RBI and through the 12th of the month his average stands at .268 with a pair of homers and 11 RBI. The former Ray wears #17 to honor former teammate Joe Kennedy who passed away during the offseason.
MINOR MATTERS (Organizational Record: 14-25, .359)
DURHAM (4-6): The Bulls dropped their third straight and are still looking for home victory number one after falling to Scranton W/B 16-6 Saturday. Lefty Mike Proshaska was bombed for eight runs and ten hits in less than five innings serving up three round-trippers. The Bulls also did some yard work - Reid Brignac, Joel Guzman and John Rodriguez - but not enough to overtake the Barons.
MONTGOMERY (3-6): The Biscuits lost a slugfest with the Mudhens 11-8 with righty Richard De Los Santos allowing five runs and eight hits in 4.2 innings. Shortstop Ronnie Merrill was 2-5 with a HR and four ribbies.
VERO BEACH (3-7): After a 3-0 start to the season the Devil Rays have not found the win column since absorbing their seventh straight defeat at the hands of Daytona 3-1. Brandon Mann hurled five innings and gave up two runs on just four hits.
COLUMBUS (4-6): The Catfish won their second straight thumping Savannah 9-2. Jason Ragan upped his record to 2-0 going seven scoreless frames. Emeel Salem was 4-5 with a triple, his second which is tops in the league.