PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Joe Maddon has been questioned a lot about Jeff Niemann's velocity being down this spring, but the Rays manager isn't concerned.
Why? Because Maddon believes the 6-foot-9 Niemann has more to offer than speed alone.
"For me, it's all about the angle for him," Maddon said. "He's a down-angle freak. ... It's plenty of velocity. I don't think hitters see him well. The angle is abnormal to really square the ball up."
Maddon pointed out that few pitchers in the Major Leagues can create such a downward angle with their pitches like Niemann can.
"I think it's more about angles," Maddon said. "And if he has command off of that angle, that's what's difficult."
Niemann, who is in contention with Roberto Hernandez for the No. 5 spot in the Rays' rotation pitched Friday against the Orioles. He allowed five earned runs on 10 hits with a walk and five strikeouts in six innings.
Fuld 'upbeat,' passes another test in road back
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Joe Maddon feels good about Sam Fuld being ready for Opening Day.
Fuld hit in a Minor League game on Thursday and followed that with a stint in which he played in left field for Triple-A Durham on Friday.
"It's a different story [playing in a game]; passed that test," Fuld said.
Maddon said everything with Fuld "seems to be in good order."
"We're just going to continue to move it forward," Maddon said. "Get him out there and involved. He was really upbeat yesterday, so I think he'll be ready for the season."
Maddon said Fuld will be off on Saturday, and he will try to get the outfielder into a game on Sunday.
"He's feeling good," Maddon said. "We'll keep playing it on a day-by-day basis and see where we want to take it, but very soon."
Fuld was happy to be playing in the field again.
"I don't do too well with the DH rule," said Fuld, who went 2-for-4 with a double Friday. He also scored from second and went from first to third on another play.
Yunel's 'chrome' something Maddon embraces
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Yunel Escobar has been a good citizen all spring, opening eyes at Rays camp with his talent and work ethic.
Joe Maddon uses the word "chrome" to describe a player being flashy, which can be perceived as a negative at times since the Rays manager has complimented a player in the past by saying he has "no chrome." However, while Maddon thinks Escobar has some chrome, he doesn't feel it's necessarily a bad thing.
"He's always going to have a certain amount of chrome to his game, but I don't want that to go away, either," Maddon said. "That's who he is. It's almost like that's his thumbprint or his signature. That's how he plays. That's who he is. So we have to fit that in within the way we do things. I don't want him to stop being that guy.
"... When you're the steward of somebody's professional career in a sense, be careful with the kind of advice you want to give, because everybody's different, man. And you got to adjust to everybody. And I'm really a big believer in that."
Maddon also allowed how nice it is for the Rays to have an everyday shortstop going into the season.
"That thought came to my head yesterday," Maddon said. "It's very exciting when you get a guy that's out there that you know is that. He is a shortstop and he can play every day. And his mind and his body permit him to do that every day, and he's not going to break down. And he's going to make all the plays. And it's nice. It's a great comforting factor to have out there."
Rays pitchers confident with Molina behind plate
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Jose Molina is back in camp and getting ready for the season after playing for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic. Among the veteran catcher's more endearing traits is his ability to frame pitches.
Rays manager Joe Maddon noted that Molina's expertise is not just gamesmanship; rather, it's a talent.
"This is the thing, every catcher frames pitches or tries to present better to the umpire," Maddon said. "They all do. Some do it better than others. To me the biggest difference is how you're able to hold the ball without the ball pushing your hand away. And he just has a strong hand. I think that's the biggest difference.
"I think there's the misconception that he's the only one that does it or tries to do it. Every catcher is taught to try and do those things. He gives a lot of confidence to the pitchers. I think he presents the pitch well to the umpire and to the pitcher, which really helps both sides a lot ... I believe that every catcher tries to do what he does. He just does it a little better than everybody else."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.