Last rotation spot still up for grabs

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The No. 5 spot in the Rays' rotation is still in question. The candidates are Jeff Niemann, Roberto Hernandez, Chris Archer, and Jake Odorizzi.

Of that group, Niemann and Hernandez remain the favorites. Niemann was sharp on Saturday, allowing only one run with three strikeouts in 3 2/3 innings. The lone run came on Ryan Howard's fourth home run of the spring.

"It's such a great problem to have, all these great people to choose from," manager Joe Maddon said.

Last year's competition for the final spot came down to Wade Davis and Niemann, who won that competition. One of the considerations for selecting Niemann was that the Rays felt Davis could adjust to the bullpen more easily than Niemann.

Maddon said he didn't know if the loser being able to adapt to the bullpen will be a consideration.

"Sometimes it could be, but I don't know that it will be this time," Maddon said. "I just want to get the guys who we perceive to be the right guys out there to begin the season with. … Our concern is probably not who is better suited for the bullpen."

Maddon also took a moment to toot Archer's horn. The right-hander has been impressive this spring.

"Archie, really, he wants to be here, man," Maddon said. "He's throwing the ball extremely well."

Could Archer end up becoming a candidate for the bullpen if he doesn't claim the No. 5 spot?

"Sometimes you can make the argument that it's good to bring a young guy up and stick him in the bullpen to get his feet wet and eventually bring him into the rotation," Maddon said. "With a guy like Archie, my perception is he's the kind of guy who can use the work if he's not playing on a regular basis. Because there's going to be a breakdown at some point and he could come up stretched out if you have a need in the rotation and really fill that well. You don't want to mess with his developmental path."

Maddon allowed that, with Archer's talents, he could become a top-of-the-rotation starter.

"He has the stuff to do that," Maddon said. "It also matters your heartbeat, your pulse, how you react to negativity at that moment. But yeah, his stuff can play at a very high level. It does."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.