Found March 21, 2013 on Fox Sports Florida:
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. The time for a decision is drawing close, and right-hander Roberto Hernandez knows each outing with be inspected with careful attention. He remains in a race for the fifth rotation spot with right-hander Jeff Niemann, the innings for both gaining more importance with each day. On Thursday, in the Tampa Bay Rays 3-1 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays, Hernandez made his latest push for the job. His line: three hits, two strikeouts and one run after Colby Rasmus cracked a homer to right field in the top of the fifth inning. The start wasnt spotless, but it wasnt damaging either. Every game is very important for me, Hernandez said. Every opportunity that I have to go to the mound, every pitch is important for me. I try to keep the ball down and make ground balls. He did a fair job of it Thursday. Rays manager Joe Maddon praised Hernandezs offering Everything was working, Maddon said and compliments were reserved for the pitchers changeup and slider. Hernandez's showing was part of a larger picture that has begun to come into focus. Hernandez has thrown 21 innings this spring, striking out 14 while giving up 16 hits and seven earned runs. Meanwhile, Niemann, who had a 3.08 ERA in eight starts last season before health issues cut short his summer, has thrown 12.2 innings this spring with nine strikeouts. He has allowed 11 hits and three earned runs. He keeps getting better, Maddon said. I told him that in the dugout, every time we send him back out there, he looks better. His command has gotten better. His velocity has gotten better. Everything. The balls on the ground. Everything you would expect of him keeps getting better every time he goes out. Will it be enough to earn a spot in the rotation? That remains uncertain. However, aside from a changeup that sailed on him against Rasmus, he made a strong pitch to earn the role. I can control how I pitch and continue like that, Hernandez said. Its for other people to make a decision for who is going to stay in the rotation. Extra work for two Outfielder Sam Fuld and catcher Jose Molina received time in a minor-league game Thursday. Fuld (right hamstring tightness) and Molina, who returned from representing Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic, played to keep loose. Fuld went 0-for-3 with a walk. Meanwhile, Molina had six at-bats (no stats were reported). Fuld wasnt expected to hit in a minor-league game until Friday. As the afternoon approached, though, he said he felt well enough to play. It happened quickly, Fuld said. Close call in the outfield Shortstop Yunel Escobar and left-fielder Matt Joyce had a close call in left field. Josh Tholes pop fly to shallow left in the fifth resulted in a small collision between Escobar and Joyce. Escobar caught the ball, despite Joyce falling to the ground after slight impact between the two. Maddon said the miscommunication cant become an issue. What I heard was Joyce calling for it, Maddon said. But (Escobar) said that they yelled at the same time. Because of that, he did not get out of the way. And that happens when they yell simultaneously. That cant happen. Longoria growing as a leader Hes no stranger to questions about third baseman Evan Longoria, but Maddon touched on the five-year players growth as a leader. Longoria signed a six-year, 100 million contract extension last November. On Thursday, Longoria went 1-for-2 with a walk. Hes batting .394 with 13 hits and seven RBI this spring. He understands what his role is now and in the future, Maddon said. He has handled it very well. He embraces it. He doesnt run away from it. You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford or email him at aastleford@gmail.com.
THE BACKYARD
BEST OF MAXIM
AROUND THE WEB
RELATED ARTICLES

Rays must watch Rodney's health after WBC

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. There is little that seems improbable for Fernando Rodney as a countdown continues toward Opening Day. His World Baseball Classic display of force is a point of nationalistic pride for the native of Samana, Dominican Republic, but its also a warning salvo to the rest of the American League East about what could come if his health cooperates. About a minute into...

Zobrist homers, but Rays split squad falls

BRADENTON, Fla. (AP) -- Ben Zobrist homered leading off a three-run sixth inning Friday for Tampa Bay, but Stefan Welch hit a three-run homer in his first spring training at-bat to help the Pittsburgh Pirates beat a split squad 6-4. Welch, a third baseman who played last season at Double-A, hit a towering shot to right field off Dane De La Rosa. The Rays scored three runs to take...

Notes from Rays Camp

AL BEast Notebook – March 20 - Rays closer Fernando Rodney saved the eighth and his seventh game for the Dominican Republic as the DR beat Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic Championship on Tuesday night. Rodney gave up just one hit in those seven scoreless performances. - The starting rotation is starting to shape up. Pitching prospects Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi were...

Longoria not enough as Rays fall to Orioles

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. (AP) -- Jonathan Schoop, still fresh off his stint with the Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic, went 3 for 4 with three RBIs, including a go-ahead two-run home run in the sixth, to lead the Baltimore Orioles to a 6-3 victory over a Tampa Bay Rays split-squad on Friday. Rays third baseman Evan Longoria continued his spring surge with a bases-clearing double...

Orioles 6, Rays 3

Jeff Niemann thinks people get the wrong idea about the kind of pitcher he is. Because he is a very large man who drew attention in college for throwing mid-90s out of the Rice bullpen, he is often perceived as a power arm forced down a few miles per hour after shoulder surgery. However, Niemann said that was never him. He believes that even in his college days, he was his most...

Pirates 6, Rays 4

Ben Zobrist homered leading off a three-run sixth inning Friday for Tampa Bay, but Stefan Welch hit a three-run homer in his first spring training at-bat to help the Pittsburgh Pirates beat a split squad 6-4. Welch, a third baseman who played last season at Double-A, hit a towering shot to right field off Dane De La Rosa. The Rays scored three runs to take a 4-3 lead in the sixth...
Today's Best Stuff
For Bloggers

Join the Yardbarker Network for more promotion, traffic, and money.

Company Info
Help
What is Yardbarker?

Yardbarker is the largest network of sports blogs and pro athlete blogs on the web. This site is the hub of the Yardbarker Network, where our editors and algorithms curate the best sports content from our network and beyond.