SARASOTA, Fla. (AP) — Jeff Niemann is making a strong case for a spot in the Tampa Bay Rays’ starting rotation.
It seems as if Niemann has teased the Rays for years with his talent, and this year with James Shields traded to Kansas City, there’s an opening behind David Price, Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson and Alex Cobb.
Niemann and Roberto Hernandez are both vying for it, and Niemann put in a strong bid for the job on Thursday as the Rays beat the Baltimore Orioles 4-3.
He went 4 1/3 innings, allowing one run on four hits, walking three and striking out three.
“Everything’s there,” Niemann said. “Put the ball in play and let the defense do the work.”
In 12 2/3 innings, Niemann has allowed three runs on 11 hits. Hernandez, who will pitch Sunday at Boston has allowed four earned runs in 10 innings.
Niemann’s velocity was down, but he thinks the scoreboard’s measurement was a little off.
“We were able to get those bad swings and those weak hit balls. For me, it’s more important what the hitters are telling me than what the radar gun says,” Niemann said.
Luke Scott hit a two-run homer to highlight a three-run third for the Rays. It was his second of the spring.
“He’s obviously seeing the ball good. He’s not jumpy,” Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said. “And the ball’s coming off the bat — when the ball’s coming off hot, it’s nice to see.”
After allowing two infield hits to the Orioles in the second inning, Niemann allowed a hit in the fourth, and was removed after Nolan Reimold singled.
“He got sharper as the game went on,” Maddon said. “Definitely good movement.”
Juan Sandoval, trying to make the big leagues after losing sight in his right eye in a hunting accident seven years ago relieved Niemann and walked Nate McLouth. Matt Wieters hit a three-run homer to tie it at 3.
In his first start for Baltimore, Kevin Gausman, the Orioles first pick in the 2012 draft, allowed two runs in 2 2/3 innings. Last Saturday, he threw three scoreless innings against Boston, and performed competently against the Rays’ lineup, which featured nearly every regular.
“I think that’s what you’re going to be facing when you’re in the bigs,” Gausman said. “You’re not going to be facing any scrubs. It’s definitely good, get those appearances against those guys, get those positive and negative feedback on, you know, your stuff and how it’s going to work against certain guys and stuff like that.”
Manager Buck Showalter started Dylan Bundy against the Red Sox last Saturday, and had Gausman pitch in relief. This time, he had Gausman start and Bundy pitch the final three innings.
“It was a good experience for him,” Showalter said.
Bundy, the team’s No. 1 pick in 2011, allowed a run and two hits in three innings. He walked two and struck out one. The winning run scored when catcher Luis Exposito was charged with catcher’s interference when he picked a ball up with his mask.
“Both of them carry good stuff, but you get to a level where you’ve got to pitch a little, too. They presented themselves well. That was a very hitter-friendly day and we only gave up, the way I look at it, two runs,” Showalter said.
NOTES: The Orioles assigned C Jose Gil and INF Niuman Romero to minor league camp. … Hall of Fame pitcher Phil Niekro is working at the Orioles minor league camp to teach pitchers knuckleballs, Showalter confirmed. … The Rays host Philadelphia on Friday. Moore will start against Phillies LHP John Lannan.
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