Pitchers make strong impression on Maddon

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Manager Joe Maddon beamed after the Rays' first workout for pitchers and catchers Wednesday at the Charlotte Sports Complex.

"It's really nice," Maddon said. "Everybody comes in in great shape on every team, but our guys are in very good shape. We have good arms, and everybody knows that. And you add different guys that you haven't seen before that, they also have very live arms."

In particular, Maddon said Mike Montgomery, Roberto Hernandez, David Price, Fernando Rodney, Jeff Niemann and Enny Romero caught his eye.

"Up and down the line there are just so many good arms," Maddon said. "It's exciting to watch. As a group, they did so well last year. Hopefully we can repeat something similar to that and figure out a couple of more ways to win games."

Of note, Niemann said he experienced his best first-day bullpen session on Wednesday. If the Rays began the season tomorrow, the first four pitchers in the rotation would be Price, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore and Alex Cobb with a healthy competition for the No. 5 spot. Maddon said that Niemann is "right in the thick of things" to claim the final rotation spot.

"Over the last couple of years he may have been the best pitcher in stretches that we had," Maddon said. "You just don't know where he's going to be. … Just have to wait and see on him. We'll have to evaluate him as we go along."

Niemann experienced a trying season in 2012. After spending three and a half months on the disabled list with a fractured right fibula, he returned to the team only to experience slight inflammation in his right rotator cuff. How Niemann comes back from those physical maladies will be a huge factor in who wins the No. 5 spot.

While youngsters such as Montgomery, Jake Odorizzi, and Chris Archer are clearly in the hunt, Maddon noted that if indeed Niemann is healthy, the No. 5 spot will likely come down to Niemann and Hernandez.