08/09/12 6:56 PM ET
Niemann makes first Minor League rehab start
By Greg Zeck / MLB.com
The big righty threw 2 2/3 innings and allowed an unearned run on three hits and a walk to go with three strikeouts for Class A Advanced Port Charlotte.
"It was great to get back out there on the field and be in the game again and compete," Niemann said.
Niemann admitted nerves built up before he took the field, but once the game started, he calmed down.
The 29-year-old threw 41 pitches, four short of his allotted 45 by the Tampa Bay training staff. He didn't have to cover first base at any point and said his leg felt good.
Niemann's next scheduled start for Port Charlotte will be either Monday or Tuesday. He said he will be on a 60-pitch limit.
He added he still plans to return in late August.
"That's what we're hoping for, to follow the program and stay with it," Niemann said.
When Niemann got hurt, the Rays called up Alex Cobb from Triple-A Durham, and the righty has pitched well as of late, including a seven-inning outing Wednesday in which he gave up just one run on five hits.
"He's really stepped it up," Niemann said of Cobb. "It's been great to see, and everyone's been doing an amazing job out there. I can't wait to get back out there and contribute."
Maddon shuffles infield alignment for finale
ST. PETERSBURG -- Rays manager Joe Maddon hinted Wednesday that he wouldn't be afraid to start Jeff Keppinger at third base and Ryan Roberts at second.
He did just that for Thursday's lineup, which featured a much different look than what the Blue Jays saw in the first two games of the series.
Evan Longoria got the start batting cleanup as the designated hitter for the third straight game since coming off the 60-day disabled list with a partially torn hamstring.
The slugger has been a welcome addition to the team, which has won each game he's been back despite his struggles at the plate. In eight plate appearances, Longoria is 1-for-7 with a sacrifice fly, a single and four strikeouts.
Sam Fuld got the start in left field on Thursday, giving Desmond Jennings the day off.
Perhaps the biggest surprise was utility man Ben Zobrist playing shortstop for the first time since 2009, but he said before the game that it should be "like riding a bike."
"They asked me if I would do it, and I said, 'Sure,'" Zobrist said.
Zobrist added he didn't know if there were any plans for him to see any more time at short the rest of the season, but he feels comfortable filling in there.
"They didn't say anything to me about how much they're gonna do it," Zobrist said. "They said, 'How do you feel about this?' and I said 'Fine.'"
Closer Fernando Rodney gave up his first run in 22 innings Wednesday night, but he eclipsed the team record of 21 scoreless innings by a reliever -- set by Joe Borowski in 2005 -- on Tuesday. The record may not stand for much longer, as lefty J.P. Howell holds a shutout streak of 20 consecutive innings.
Entering Thursday's finale, Tampa Bay was going for its first sweep of an opponent since June 8-10 against Miami.
The Rays secured their 16th consecutive home series victory over Toronto, 15 of which have come at Tropicana Field, and one at The Ballpark at Disney.
Matt Moore entered Thursday's start having not given up a run in 17 2/3 straight innings, just shy of the Rays' season high of 19 1/3 innings, set by James Shields.
Durham first baseman Henry Wrigley was named the Topps International Player of the Month after hitting .370 with three homers and 18 RBIs.
Designated hitter Luke Scott will begin a rehab assignment on Friday with Charlotte. Scott said after Thursday's 7-1 win over the Blue Jays that he plans on playing Friday and Saturday before taking Sunday off. He will then be evaluated.
Following Thursday's game, the Rays announced that infielder Brooks Conrad accepted his assignment to Durham and that infielder Matt Mangini was released from the organization.
Greg Zeck is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.