The Rays Tank: Jeff Niemann Accepts Reality of Surgery

Leon Halip

Something that goes forgotten when converting a pitcher from a starter to a reliever: the additional wear and tear from needing to be ready to go on a daily basis can make all the difference.

We saw the warning signs as Jeff Niemann's fastball velocity dipped into the mid-80's this spring. Marc Topkin actually reported the other day that surgery was the likely scenario for Niemann to deal with his sore shoulder. But now it's starting to set in for Rays fans and most importnat for Niemann himself- he's set to go undergo surgery, ending his season before he could make a single appearance.

As any pitcher would be, Niemann is frustrated that his recent string of injuries has escalated into something like this and is just going to do what he can to get back on track.

"It's really frustrating, because [the period before going on the DL for the first time in 2012 was] the best I've ever been as a pitcher at any level in my career," Niemann said. "On the good side, that's what we have in our head to get back to. We were on a roll and things were going the way they should have gone. And then the script gets flipped over a little bit trying to get out of this hole that seems to get deeper and deeper. All you can do is keep fighting."

What was interesting, though, was how exactly the injury happened. The knee-jerk reaction is the assume that correlation implies causation between Niemann's decreased velocity and his DL stint and subsequent surgery. However, Niemann suggested that maybe that wasn't really the case.


"In the bullpen you have to be ready every day, and my attempts to be able to throw a ball and be loose and warm and have the body ready to go pitch had no recovery time. It went downhill so fast," he said. "It was the first time we experienced any backtracking at all during this time."

Niemann's velocity decrease may have been from some issue in his shoulder, but it wasn't something all that significant and Niemann was able to survive it with four days of rest between his appearances. As he prepared to be in the bullpen, though, he didn't have nearly as much time between appearances and his shoulder simply couldn't take it.

Even though starting pitchers throw plenty more innings and have more opportunity to get injured, once they take the mound, the adrenaline starts pumping, making the pain from the nicks and bruises of a long MLB season fade away, and even after the pain returns following the game, they have four more days of rest to be ready to start again. Maybe Niemann's shoulder issue would have eventually become too much to bear eventually nevertheless, but losing the rest between appearances expedited that process.

We take it for granted that a failed starter or one the Rays don't have room for can move to the bullpen without a hitch. Niemann getting injured reminds us that there are some cases where that isn't true and that making blanket assumptions like that can cost us dearly.

Here are your links for today:

- Per Topkin, Luke Scott took batting practice on Tuesday and feels that he'll be ready to get into rehab games over the next week. With the Rays offense sputtering, they can't wait for Scott to come back.

- Josh Leventhal of Baseball America talked about how the Rays' Triple-A affiliate, the Durham Bulls, introduced racing mascots in honor of the 25th anniversary of the movie "Bull Durham." The Bulls led all minor league teams in attendance on Monday.

- Michael Barr of Fangraphs discussed the changes in Roberto Hernandez's pitches, mechanics, and mound placement. Hernandez looked really good even as he lost on Tuesday, allowing 6 runs, 5 earned, only thanks to plenty of bad luck, and it will be interesting to see how he does the rest of the year.

- Regarding today's game, Topkin noted that thunderstorms are in the forecast but the Rays and Rangers are going to do everything possible to get the game in given that this is the Rays' only trip to Texas. The game is scheduled for 2:05, but if the thunderstorms happen, Topkin said that a lengthy rain delay could be in the wings.

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