PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. (AP) - 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 effective sitting in the low 90s and high 80s on the radar gun.
With four years of major league service time on his baseball card, Niemann knows when he's at his best and when he isn't. That's why he wasn't overly concerned when he gave up five runs and 10 hits in six innings in the Tampa Bay Rays' 6-3 loss to the Baltimore Orioles on Friday.
For Niemann, it's about the process and not the immediate results.
``Honestly, that's the best I've felt all spring, the best I've thrown the ball,' said Niemann, competing with Roberto Hernandez to claim the Rays' fifth starter spot. ``I just made a couple of bad pitches, and the homer is what really upset me.'
The homer he was referring to was a two-run shot by Orioles prospect Jonathan Schoop, who went 3 for 4 with three RBIs in his first start since returning from playing for the Netherlands at the World Baseball Classic. One of the best middle infield prospects in baseball, Schoop doesn't figure to earn a spot with Baltimore on opening day, but he is the kind of player that the Orioles plan to build around.
Niemann said his mistake to Schoop was a fastball that didn't get inside enough and got up in the zone too much.
``I felt like I finally had some life behind the ball as it was coming out and the confidence just kind of kept growing as the game went on,' said the Rays' veteran.
Niemann's four-seam fastball has become a cutter, and his two-seamer is a regular piece of his game-plan.
``Nothing I throw is straight anymore,' he added. ``It's just how we evolve in this league. You have to constantly find a new way to get guys out. As much info as we have on them, they have the same info on us.'
Neimann's counterpart, Steve Johnson, is also looking for a role in the Orioles' rotation. He allowed three runs on two hits and three walks, most of which came in the three-run third inning, that culminated in a bases clearing double from Evan Longoria.
``Any time you throw that many pitches in an inning, you start to kind of tire,' Johnson said. ``It's just really frustrating. I was cruising, I felt good and it just didn't work out that inning.'
NOTES: Orioles RF Nick Markakis hit off a batting tee for the first time since he was scratched from a game on March 3. Markakis, who has a small disk herniation in his back, hopes to play next week. ... Baltimore lost RHP Todd Redmond on waivers to Toronto. ... LHP Wei-Yin Chen will pitch for the Orioles on Saturday against Philadelphia RHP Aaron Cook. Members of the Rays organization, including Joe Maddon, David Price and Ben Zobrist were treated to an advanced showing of ``42' at a local mall Thursday night. Minor leagues coaches, players and scouts were also invited to attend the motion picture based on the life of Jackie Robinson. . Steve Pearce hit his fifth homer of the spring for Baltimore.
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