Brant James of the St. Petersburg Times reports that LHP Scott Kazmir will throw five or six innings and a "maximum" of 85 pitches tonight in his final minor league rehab outing for AAA Durham. He is on track to join the rotation this weekend against the Boston Red Sox, most likely for Sunday's game. James also reports that RHP Al Reyes will make his second and final one inning rehab stint for A+ Vero Beach this evening. His fastball apparently "reached" 85 mph in his last outing on Saturday, but he is still expected to be activated when eligible to come off of the DL on Thursday. More injury news from Bill Chastain of RaysBaseball.com:
Willy Aybar [left hamstring strain] said he expects to start playing in games in a week. ... Cliff Floyd [right knee surgery] is expected to begin playing in some games later this week.
Chastain produced another article, the latest to focus on the Rays' impending rotation crunch, and he does a fairly decent job in summarizing things. Chastain also says that LHP Kurt Birkins, who has not pitched in a week, will be optioned to AAA Durham once Reyes is activated from the DL. Essentially, the team faces two tough choices. First, who exactly will be bumped from the rotation? Second, who will be bumped from the active roster? The answer to both questions could easily be the same person, either RHP Andy Sonnanstine or RHP Matt Garza (unlikely). Otherwise, they will need to not only move someone to the bullpen, but bump someone from the bullpen off of the active roster. Should be an interesting choice for the team. Although it isn't my personal preference, I'm guessing based on the circumstances that Sonnanstine will get demoted to AAA Durham since he still has options and the team won't have to disrupt the bullpen by moving him out.
IF Ben Zobrist is due to get the pins out of his fractured thumb today, and he could begin playing in Extended Spring Training games as soon as this week. That from Marc Lancaster of the Tribune, who also had this to report concerning late inning pitching roles:
When RHP Al Reyes rejoins the Rays on Thursday after finishing a stint on the disabled list with a shoulder impingement, he won't necessarily slide back into the eighth-inning spot he had held before. Maddon indicated Sunday he was inclined to keep RHP Dan Wheeler in the primary setup role, though he has done plenty of mixing and matching over the past week.
Lancaster also reports that RHP Jeff Niemann has not made a start for AAA Durham since being optioned down one week ago. He did throw a bullpen session with no problems, however, and thus should make his next start sometime this week. Lancaster speculates that day will be Thursday.
Elsewhere, Adam Morris of Lone Star Ball goes behind the ESPN paywall to retrieve a few Buster Olney bits from ESPN on the state of the Rangers franchise. Hat tip to Rays Index. Here's the paragraph pertinent to the Rays:
Texas general manager Jon Daniels recently received an extension, but if Ryan ultimately decides he wants somebody else making the baseball choices, others who know Ryan wonder if he'll ask former Houston GM Gerry Hunsicker -- now an advisor with Tampa Bay -- to come on board. Even if that happens, friends say Hunsicker very much likes his role with the Rays.