PORT CHARLOTTE -- Jeff Niemann looked sharp on Thursday when he allowed one run in 4 1/3 innings against the Orioles. But there were questions afterwards about his velocity.
None of the pitches Niemann threw touched 90 mph. When reporters told Niemann about his velocity after the game, he didn't seem too concerned. Neither did Rays manager Joe Maddon on Friday morning.
"I've always talked about I don't like it when he throws 92 or 93," Maddon said. "I think the movement becomes less. Now I think [88 mph] is a little bit below, if that [radar] gun was in fact correct. But I also believe as he continues to move forward you're going to see a little bit more [velocity], which would put him right about where he needs to be.
"The curveball, the slider, the cutter, the split, everything is really good and they're getting bad swings against him, so that tells you how much the ball is moving. I mean with him, it's all about his angle, so I'm really not concerned. If he was off maybe two or three miles per hour, that's forthcoming I believe."
Peralta proud of Dominican brethren
PORT CHARLOTTE -- Joel Peralta entered the clubhouse on Friday morning with a swelled chest, wearing a Dominican Republic cap.
The native of Bonao, Dominican Republic, had a bounce in his step from watching the Dominican Republic defeat the United States, 3-1, in their World Baseball Classic matchup Thursday night.
"Awesome," said Peralta, who watched the game with fellow Rays countrymen Juan Sandoval, Juan Oviedo, and Jose Molina (the Minor Leaguer pitcher, not the Rays catcher who's playing for Puerto Rico in the Classic). "Definitely wished I could have been there, wanted to be there from the start. This whole thing started and I was like, 'I wish I was there,' but I couldn't be there."
Peralta had originally been scheduled to pitch for the Dominican Republic in this year's Classic, but a stiff neck slowed him early in camp, which prompted him to withdraw from the team.
The Dominican Republic scored twice in the top of the ninth to take a 3-1 lead before Rays closer Fernando Rodney came in to pitch the bottom half of the inning for the Dominicans.
Peralta, who is good friends with Rodney, noted that he was a little nervous for his friend.
"I mean, I know he's got his stuff to do well, but I don't want him to be over-throwing," Peralta said. "He did a good job. He was definitely anxious to get into that game. I could see how happy he was after he got in."
Ben Zobrist pinch-hit for the United States in the ninth and had a good at-bat before Rodney finally struck his Rays teammate for the second out of the inning.
"I was kind of curious if that [matchup] was going to happen," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "I thought it was pretty interesting to watch both of them going at it like that."
Watching the confrontation put Maddon in an unusual situation.
"It was kind of weird, I can understand the Harbaughs," Maddon said referencing brothers John and Jim Harbaugh, who coached against each other in the Super Bowl. "Who do you root for? There is no rooting, you want them both to do well so you stay out of it and see what the heck happens."
"Fernando's throwing the ball really well right now," he said. "That's kind of an uncomfortable moment for Zo."
After Rodney got the final out of the game, he fired one of his imaginary arrows into the air.
"I was so happy for him," Peralta said. "He actually sent me a picture after the game last night. It was a really good one. I'm happy for him."
Fuld's tight hamstring not ready yet
PORT CHARLOTTE -- Sam Fuld (tight right hamstring) was expected to be back by Friday or Saturday, but the Rays outfielder said he's not quite ready to return.
Fuld's activity has been slowed since the March 3 game against the Twins in Port Charlotte when he felt the tightness. He has been able to hit and he's been doing some running, but not on the bases. He didn't seem concerned about not being back just yet.
"There have been no setbacks," Fuld said.
Rays manager Joe Maddon talked to head athletic trainer Ron Porterfield, who advised him about the course of action to be taken with Fuld.
"Ronnie still thinks four or five more days before he turns him loose," Maddon said. "It's getting better, everything is coming along well. But Ronnie wants to be cautious. He called me last night and told me what he thought. So we'll continue to be cautious about that, but there's not a heavy level of concern right now."
Maddon noted that the most important thing is for Fuld to accrue the appropriate number of at-bats for him to be ready.
"I think his leg is going to be fine by that point, but you want to make sure that he's ready, too," Maddon said. "If he's back right around the 20th or so, he's still got a chance to get 20 or 25 at-bats and we could still get him some at-bats in a Minor League game."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.