Niemann hurt, but bullpen, bats provide big lift
Rays starter breaks bone in right leg on first-inning comebacker
By Chris Toman / MLB.com | 5/15/2012 1:00 AM ET
TB@TOR: Niemann exits game after taking liner off leg
TORONTO -- Injury after injury, the Rays keep on ticking, but they aren't about to start feeling sorry for themselves.
Tampa Bay's relievers answered the bell Monday after losing starter Jeff Niemann -- who was diagnosed with a small fracture of his right fibula -- in the second inning, persevering for eight innings of one-run ball with a resiliency that has come to define this club.
The Rays' bullpen, which has collectively struggled, held the Blue Jays in check and got an offensive outburst in the fifth to defeat Toronto, 7-1, in the opener of a two-game set at Rogers Centre.
"It's a big loss; we are constantly having our depth tested," manager Joe Maddon said about Niemann. "I'm really proud of the whole group. That's who we are -- we really do rally to pick each other up. Nobody is out there saying the season is over because some really key people are missing. I love it, I absolutely love it. You just have to be resilient in this game and be creative. You have to somehow work through these moments because it happens to everyone, it's not unique to us."
With two on and one out in the first, Blue Jays first baseman Adam Lind hit a line drive off Niemann's leg, who then recovered and threw him out at first. Niemann made it through the rest of the inning, but was pulled before the start of the second and replaced by left-hander Cesar Ramos. Although no timetable for Niemann's return has been made official, the initial belief is that Niemann, who was put in a walking boot and on crutches, will be out four to six weeks.
Ramos, who won his first Major League game, and a collection of five other relievers combined to limit the Blue Jays to one run on three hits over eight innings. It was just the second time in Rays history that their bullpen has pitched eight-plus innings while allowing one or no runs in a nine-inning game.
Maddon said he was quite impressed with the bullpen and especially Wade Davis, who pitched two innings after Ramos. Tampa Bay's skipper believes Davis is starting to feel more comfortable in the role and, although no decision on Niemann's replacement has been made, it sounds like Maddon will keep him in the bullpen -- or, at least, would prefer to. If Davis is left in the pen, the Rays could call upon Minor Leaguers Alex Cobb or Chris Archer.
While the relievers were the story of the game, the bats didn't disappoint, either. The offense erupted for six runs in the fifth, matching the most the club has scored in an inning this season, off Blue Jays starter Brandon Morrow, who entered the frame with a no-hitter.
Will Rhymes led off the inning with an opposite-field double down the left-field line, and would eventually score on a one-out single up the middle by Elliot Johnson, who extended his career-best hitting streak to six games. Tampa Bay piled it on from there, sending 10 men to the plate in a 28-pitch inning by Morrow.
Ben Zobrist displayed some heads-up baserunning later in the inning, scoring from second on a grounder by Matt Joyce -- a screamer smacked down the first-base line that a diving Lind, who was charged with an error on the play, was unable to field cleanly. Second baseman Kelly Johnson recovered, but Joyce, who slid into the bag head-first, narrowly beat the throw. Morrow was visibly upset with the call, arguing for a brief moment with first-base umpire Bill Miller while Zobrist, who had every intention of scoring when the play unfolded, raced home to give the Rays a 2-1 lead.
"It's a hit all the way in my opinion ... I'm just trying to hurry to third," Zobirst said. "Off the bat, I thought it was going to go into the outfield. As a matter of fact, [third-base coach] Tim Foli was waving me the whole time. I thought it was in the outfield until I was halfway home and I saw that there was a possible play at first base."
Tampa Bay wasn't done there. After Carlos Pena reached on a strike-three wild pitch, Luke Scott hit a two-run opposite-field single. Sean Rodriguez followed by cashing in two more with a double to right-center for a 6-1 lead.
"That was a tough fifth," Morrow said, who was tagged with the loss but only charged with one earned run over five innings. "I made some pitches to get out of it and then they went out and got some good fastballs that were a touch off the plate. A couple of good pieces of hitting there to break it open."
Zobrist added a solo homer, his sixth of the year, off Carlos Villanueva in the ninth for a 7-1 lead.
"Up and down the lineup, really good at-bats by the whole group ... and of course Rhymes getting the whole thing started," Maddon said. "That's a win everyone contributed to."
The win once again comes at a cost, as injuries have plagued the Rays all season. Earlier in the day, outfielder Desmond Jennings was placed on the 15-day disabled list, where he will now be joined by Niemann.
"We're deep in our organization with arms, [but] we will miss him for the time that he will be out," Scott said about Niemann. "We know that he'll bounce back and be with us very soon. We have a great training staff and he shouldn't miss a beat whenever he gets back."
Tampa Bay is also without All-Star third baseman Evan Longoria, who is out with a partially torn hamstring, and closer Kyle Farnsworth, to name just a few.
Despite the adversity the club has faced, the Rays are tied atop the American League East with the Orioles.