Four years ago, Jeff Niemann was just a huge kid with an arm. Two years ago, Jeff Niemann was a MLB starter with a very bright future ahead of him. A little over a year ago, Niemann looked like a pitching phenom and future superstar.
Mid-season of last year, one injury almost completely destroyed everything for the Big Texan. That shoulder injury was a major setback in the growing career of a young pitcher. Ever since that day the Rays announced he would be placed on the 15-Day DL, Jeff Niemann has never been the same since. It’s a sad story that has happened to countless pitchers throughout baseball history. The Rays and Rays Republic hope that it won’t end that way for Jeff. Luckily, he’s only 28 years old, and has made a bit of progress this year in getting back to his ‘A-game’ form from 2010. In the first half of 2o1o, Niemann put up ridiculous numbers, including a startling 2.77 ERA through 117 IP. The second half was a disaster, after recovering from the shoulder injury. His velocity and command was nothing like it was in the excellent first half. It was clear it might be a while before Niemann returns to his best form. The Rays knew that injuries were really the only problem the Rays could have with their starting pitching, which was terrific when 100% healthy. In 2011, Niemann worked hard to get back his spot in the rotation. Although another injury got in his way of success. Niemann again spent some time on the DL, but luckily the Rays had Alex Cobb come to the rescue.
After returning from the DL, Niemann got his spot back, but Cobb was not sent back down to Durham. Cobb’s outstanding pitching convinced Joe Maddon that a 6-man rotation would be ideal. This worked out even better than expected, the extra rest was really coming in the pitchers’ favor. Especially for Niemann, who was starting to pitch well after returning from the DL. Unfortunately, that 6-man rotation didn’t last long though. Cobb got hurt and required season-ending rib surgery. Hopefully for the talented young pitcher, the injury won’t be too much of a setback like it was in Niemann’s case. Now Niemann is starting to struggle on the mound, like in last night’s big game in Arlington (http://tampabay.rays.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=18710899&c_id=tb). Niemann will have his chances to return to his 2010 form. Even with the probable addition of Matt Moore and Chris Archer next year, the Rays really hope he’ll be pitching well by next year. The Rays do have a great pitching future, and a healthy Niemann could be an important part of the Rays success in years to come.