Niemann hopeful of returning to mound this year

Niemann hopeful of returning to mound this year

ST. PETERSBURG -- Rays pitcher Jeff Niemann took his first significant step toward returning to the team Friday, playing catch and making 35 throws from 60 feet before the Rays' game against the Blue Jays.

Niemann has endured bad luck for almost all of 2012, beginning with a fractured lower right leg in May that sidelined him for 3 1/2 months.

In his first start off the disabled list, Niemann hurt himself again in the fourth inning of a Sept. 1 game against the Blue Jays, sustaining a strained right rotator cuff.

"Everything felt good," Niemann said about Friday's throwing session. "It's a starting place for us, and we're going to keep going from here."

Niemann said the plan in the short term was to play catch every other day then eventually every day, but he did not know when he would be able to throw off the mound.

"That's still up in the air," Niemann said about taking the mound. "We're doing everything we can every day to get as much in as we can to get to that point."

With two weeks left in the season and Tampa Bay's playoff hopes still hanging in the balance, Niemann said he's still holding out hope to pitch again this season.

"Cram it in, we've done it before," Niemann said. "We're just going to keep doing what we do and let the chips fall where they may in about two weeks."