Rays hammer Phillies pitching

March 7, 2008 7:44:33 PM PST
Jeff Niemann is making a case to be considered for a spot in Tampa Bay's pitching rotation. The fourth-pick in the 2004 June draft worked three hitless innings on Friday, helping the Rays beat the Philadelphia Phillies 9-1 and giving the 6-foot-9 right-hander consecutive scoreless appearances this spring.

Niemann, 12-6 with a 3.98 ERA at Triple-A Durham last season, walked two and struck out two to improve on last Sunday's 34-pitch, one-inning outing against Pittsburgh.

"I was a lot more confident out there. I wasn't searching for things. Wasn't wondering if my mechanics were right, if my hips were doing the right thing," Niemann said. "It was more just go out there and pitch. You know what you need to do. Keep the ball down, throw and have fun."

Eric Hinske and Chris Richard drove in two runs apiece, while Jason Bartlett was 2-for-3 with one RBI and two stolen bases for the Rays.

Philadelphia starter Cole Hamels, who allowed three runs and five hits in three innings, was followed by Fabio Castro, Carlos Carrasco and Joe Bisenius. Pat Burrell drove in the Phillies' lone run with a sixth-inning single.

Niemann is competing with Andy Sonnanstine, J.P. Howell, Jason Hammel and Edwin Jackson for two openings in Tampa Bay's rotation. Sonnanstine pitched one perfect inning, while Howell allowed one run and four hits over three innings against the Phillies.

Niemann likes the progress he's made in two starts.

"But it's still really early in spring. There's a lot of games to be played, and there's a lot of guys in the running," he said. "There's no guarantees for any of us that are out there fighting for those two spots. We've just got to go out there and play ball."

Another highly regarded Rays pitching prospect, David Price, is scheduled to make his debut Saturday against the New York Yankees.

The 22-year-old left-hander was the first pick in the 2007 draft after a standout career at Vanderbilt.

He signed with Tampa Bay in August, but did not pitch in the minors last summer. The Rays scratched him from a planned appearance in an intrasquad game last week because of shoulder stiffness.

Manager Joe Maddon said he'd like to see Price "just get out and have a good time, throw some strikes" without placing pressure on himself to impress.

"I don't want to put too much on him right now," Maddon said, adding that he thinks Price has handled himself well in his first spring training.

"Regardless of what he does on the mound (Saturday), I know he's on track to be a very good professional pitcher. ... He's got a lot of self-confidence. He's got a tremendous poise about him that's unusual for a man of that age."

The teams, who played a rain-shortened game in Clearwater on Thursday, played an additional five innings so that pitchers on both sides could remain on schedule. ... Players union head Donald Fehr met with the Rays before the game.