04/10/2013 5:15 PM ET
Rays revisit school days with new jackets
By Bill Chastain / MLB.com
ARLINGTON -- The Rays will wear letterman jackets on the charter from Texas to Boston after Wednesday afternoon's game against the Rangers, their first themed dress road trip of 2013 and the 23rd such trip since Joe Maddon introduced them to the team in 2008.
The jackets feature the Rays' yellow sunburst over the left breast.
Equipment manager Chris Westmoreland was asked if everybody had earned their letter.
"I think everybody's earned it at this point, but it can be taken away," he said.
Turned out, the timing for breaking out the jackets is impeccable. According to the weather forecast, Boston temperatures will range from 38 to 63 degrees during the Rays' four-game series that runs from Friday through Monday.
Improved curve keeping Cobb ahead in count
ARLINGTON -- Alex Cobb had a nice outing in his first start of the season, tossing 7 1/3 scoreless innings against the Indians on Saturday night. The right-hander likes the way his improved curve has helped his pitching repertoire.
Specifically, he has not had to rely on the changeup as much as he had previously.
"[The curve is] huge," Cobb said. "Not only for a put-away pitch."
Cobb had relied a lot on swings and misses with his changeup, hoping that the hitters would chase the pitch outside the strike zone.
"This curveball allows me to start off the count early with a get-me-over curveball, and usually they'll be taking it if it's not the pitch they're looking for," Cobb said. "So being able to get ahead in the count is huge. I wasn't able to do that so much with my changeup. It's more a hoping-they-chase-type pitch, and this is more in the zone."
Cobb noted that the curve he throws now arrives to the plate faster and it has a tighter spin, which keeps it from being identified quickly by the hitters.
Hot-hitting Longoria waiting on power stroke
ARLINGTON -- Evan Longoria started at DH Wednesday afternoon. Rays manager Joe Maddon explained that he just wanted to get his All-Star third baseman off his feet for a day.
"Just trying to preserve the number of games he can participate in this year," Maddon said. "In doing it this way, we have an off day tomorrow, so this kind of gives him a half-day here today, full day tomorrow. Going into Friday, he'll be nice and frisky."
Maddon added that Arlington's wet weather had not been a factor in the decision.
Longoria brought a .370 batting average into Wednesday afternoon's game, but this is the deepest into the season he has ever gone without hitting a home run. Maddon did not see that as a problem.
"I just think they're not giving him pitches to hit for power with," Maddon said. "That's part of the issue. His swing is outstanding. He's probably fouled back his pitch a couple of times.
"I think he looks really good at the plate also. I like his willingness to take the ball the other way right now. That's part of what I'd like to see us do more consistently. We talked about it last year. There's a lot of good stuff in the opposite field. I think for a while we've had the kind of guys who were unable to utilize the opposite field. We have a different group of guys now who should be more able to do that."
Niemann's shoulder surgery goes well
ARLINGTON -- Jeff Niemann underwent successful surgery Wednesday on his right shoulder.
Dr. Keith Meister debrided (cleaned up) Niemann's rotator cuff and labrum. He is not expected to pitch again this season. The surgery took place at the Trinity Park Surgery Center in Arlington.
Niemann, 30, competed with Roberto Hernandez for the fifth spot in the Rays' rotation this spring. Hernandez earned the job and Niemann was sent to the bullpen.
Unfortunately for Niemann, the rigors of being prepared for daily work took a toll on the right-hander's shoulder. He went on the 15-day disabled list on Friday due to right shoulder soreness.
Niemann is 40-26 with a 4.08 ERA in 97 appearances (92 starts), all with Tampa Bay. Contractually, he is under the team's control through 2014.
Maddon sees offense as gathering 'swarm'
ARLINGTON -- The Rays have experienced some early frustrations on offense, and the early statistics bear that out.
The Rays had scored 30 runs entering Wednesday game, which ranked as the third fewest they had scored in team history after eight games. The team's four home runs were its fewest after eight games, and the club was 0-for-10 (with two walks) with the bases loaded. Finally, of the team's 58 hits, Evan Longoria and Ben Zobrist had 10 each, accounting for 34 percent of the offense.
Rays manager Joe Maddon was asked if his offense was guilty of pressing.
"I don't know if the word pressing [is right]," Maddon said. "We all want to do well, and I love the effort, I love the caring, everything is there.
"We're getting some ground balls in situations, beating balls into the ground. I think sometimes that's just being a little bit too eager. Some of it's the fact that we don't swing a miss a lot."
Maddon noted that this year's offense is different.
"A lot of times in the past, you would see swing and miss," Maddon said. "Now you're seeing swing and not hard contact, whereas I think you're going to start seeing this contact start getting hard.
"We just haven't hit the ball hard enough to challenge defenses yet, but we will. We've been making contact. It's not like they're just up there punching all the time. It's a different part of our culture we're having to get used to."
Despite the slow start, Maddon sees good things for this year's offense.
"I really believe that this group can turn into more of a swarming type offense reminiscent of my time with the Angels in 2002 winning the World Series," Maddon said. "That group did not strike out often either. Once that group got going, man, it would be a swarming type offense, which I see this group becoming also as we get it in gear. So for right now the contact hasn't been hard enough to be that group, but it will be."
Luke Scott (right-calf strain) ran sprints in the outfield on Wednesday and believes he will be back before the projected 3-5 week forecast. "I believe I'll be back much sooner than that," Scott said. "Ron's [Porterfield, head athletic trainer] been doing a great job."
• Rangers right-hander Nick Tepesch became the seventh rookie starter to beat the Rays in his Major League debut on Tuesday night. Prior to Tepesch, Baltimore's Zach Britton (2011) was the last to turn the trick. All-time, rookie starters making their Major League debut against the Rays are 7-7 in 21 starts.
• Of the 44 runs the Rays have permitted this season, 27 have come with two out.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.