ARLINGTON -- Jeff Niemann finally rejoined his Rays teammates in Texas, the site of the season-ending surgery he underwent nearly six months ago.
"The full circle," Niemann said.
On April 10, while the Rays were at Rangers Ballpark to play their third series of the season, Niemann was undergoing surgery to repair the labrum and rotator cuff in his right shoulder, a procedure that carried an estimated nine- to 12-month recovery.
Niemann -- limited to only eight Major League starts in an injury-riddled 2012 season -- said he's "ahead of schedule" but that throwing off a mound is still "too far down the road" for him to have a definitive timeline. The 6-foot-9 right-hander has been rehabbing hard near his Houston home five days a week and is playing catch from 90 feet, hopeful of being healthy by the start of Spring Training.
"The way things are going," he said, "the timeline really looks well for next year."
Niemann, who made $3 million in 2013, is arbitration-eligible for the third time this offseason and could be non-tendered, but that was the furthest thing from his mind as he made the rounds in the visitors' clubhouse at Rangers Ballpark on Monday afternoon, hours before his team would face the Rangers in game No. 163.
"This reinvigorated me, just seeing this and being here, seeing the guys do their thing," he said. "You can only see so much on TV. To know what it's really like and to miss that, and to miss all the guys, and the fun that is this team -- on the field and off the field -- it's a great group of guys to watch and a good group of guys to be around. I'm looking for some good stuff tonight, and hopefully, I get to keep watching."
Jennings returns to lineup for tiebreaker
ARLINGTON -- Desmond Jennings was not going to let the lingering tightness in his left hamstring keep him out for another one of these do-or-die games. On Monday, for the American League tiebreaker showdown at Rangers Ballpark, the 26-year-old outfielder was in the lineup for the first time in eight days, leading off and playing center field.
Asked pregame to put a percentage on his health, Jennings said, "I don't know, 100," but that was obviously not true. He did some sprints pregame and said the hamstring "feels good enough for me to play," but he clearly couldn't run full speed in the Rays' eventual 5-2 win. That was evident on the very first pitch, when Jennings -- 1-for-3 with a walk before getting replaced for defense in the seventh -- hit a broken-bat liner down the left-field line and was easily thrown out trying to stretch it to a double.
"I'm not going to limit myself," he said pregame. "I'm going to go out and play, and whatever happens, happens."
Jennings had been out of manager Joe Maddon's lineup since exiting the Sept. 22 game against the Orioles in the sixth inning, relegated to two plate appearances as a pinch-hitter while the Rays deployed the left-handed-hitting David DeJesus in his place.
"Yesterday, he started talking pretty good, so I thought there might be a chance," Maddon said. "I didn't really know. He came out today at 3 o'clock, went through a battery of tests with [trainer] Ron Porterfield and [bench coach] Davey Martinez, and he came through really well. He gave the thumbs-up, he wanted to go. So we're going to try it."
The right-handed-hitting Jennings, who had never faced Rangers rookie lefty Martin Perez, entered with a .252/.333/.414 slash line in 138 games, with 14 homers, 54 RBIs and 20 stolen bases.
And he had grown tired of sitting around.
"It's the last game of the year," Jennings said, before catching himself. "It could be, could not be, but if something happens, you have all offseason for it to fully heal back up. I don't want to miss this game. You play a whole season, and for it to come down to the last weekend and you miss the last week of the season, it [stinks]. I went out and did some stuff today and felt fine."
Kiermaier gets first callup, joins Rays in Texas
ARLINGTON -- Kevin Kiermaier was lounging in his apartment in Port Charlotte, Fla., on Sunday, watching the series finale of "Breaking Bad," when suddenly a call came in from Jeff McLerran, the Rays' assistant of Minor League operations.
On Monday morning, he was boarding a flight to Texas to get his first Major League callup and join the Rays for game No. 163.
"I knew that I was going to surprise this organization," Kiermaier said. "Even though I was a 31st-rounder [in 2010], it was all about the opportunity. If I play well and I do what I have to do on the field, they're going to have to make a decision on me sooner or later, as my career goes along. Today's the day -- Sept. 30, 2013."
Kiermaier -- a 23-year-old left-handed-hitting outfielder who has spent the majority of his pro career in center field -- was essentially insurance for Desmond Jennings, who has been battling a tight left hamstring since Sept. 22, but nonetheless returned to the starting lineup for Monday's tiebreaker.
Manager Joe Maddon called Kiermaier "one of the best young defenders in the game" and proved his confidence in him in Game 163, bringing Kiermaier in as a defensive replacement in center for the ninth inning of an eventual 5-2 win.
Kiermaier spent a combined 136 games at Double-A and Triple-A this season, posting a .295/.362/.431 slash line with six homers, 41 RBIs and 21 stolen bases. Immediately after the Bulls' season ended, the Rays sent him to instructional league in Port Charlotte. And on Friday, they told him to stick around a little longer because of Jennings' hamstring issue.
"I came a long way from the last few years of my Minor League career, and to be up here now is awesome," Kiermaier said. "I'm just glad that Tampa Bay is giving me an opportunity. Hopefully, I can make an impact one way or the other. I'm real excited about the opportunity. I'm on cloud nine right now."
• To make room for Kiermaier on the 40-man roster, the Rays transferred reliever Jesse Crain to the 60-day disabled list. Crain hasn't pitched since late June, for the White Sox, because of a shoulder strain and has been ruled out for the postseason.
The active roster was at 38 for Monday's tiebreaker against the Rangers; rosters go back to 25 for the Wild Card Game.
• If the Rays beat the Indians in the Wild Card Game to advance to the American League Division Series, Game 1 against the Red Sox at Fenway Park would be at 3:07 p.m. ET on Friday, with Game 2 at 5:37 p.m. on Saturday.
Wednesday's Wild Card Game in Cleveland is scheduled for 8:07 p.m., with all games broadcast on TBS.
• Delmon Young, batting fifth and serving as the designated hitter on Monday, is the third player in Major League history to appear in three tiebreaker games or series, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The other two are Dodgers outfielders Carl Furillo (1946, '51 and '59) and Duke Snider (1951, '59 and '62).
Young was with the Twins for game No. 163 when they lost to the White Sox, 1-0, in 2008, and when they beat the Tigers, 6-5, in 12 innings in 2009.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.