Rays facing decision with Jeff Niemann on the way back

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Jeff Niemann, out since mid-May with a fractured leg, allowed four runs in 3 1/3 innings in his second rehab start for high-A Charlotte on Tuesday. He’s still probably two rehab starts away from rejoining the Rays, but his return could prompt a roster crunch.

Alex Cobb, Niemann’s rotation replacement, has won his last three starts, allowing exactly one run in seven innings each time. He was struggling some beforehand, but he has pitched better than his 7-8 record and 4.08 ERA overall. In 90 1/3 innings, he’s allowed just four homers and posted a 67/26 K/BB ratio.

Niemann had a 3.38 ERA before going down, so he doesn’t deserve to lose his spot. Still, the Rays could consider taking a look at him in a relief role. After all, he doesn’t project as a member of their playoff rotation, should they make it. The Rays have a top four of David Price, James Shields, Matt Moore and Jeremy Hellickson to use in October, so giving Niemann a head start on pitching out of the pen might be for the best.

Report: Orioles re-sign Pedro Alvarez to minors deal

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The Orioles have re-signed infielder Pedro Alvarez to a minor league deal, per a report from Roch Kubatko of MASN Sports. The deal guarantees Alvarez $1 million if he makes the 40-man roster and another $2 million in potential performance bonuses. The team has yet to confirm the deal.

This will be Alvarez’s third year with the Orioles. After posting decent numbers in 2016, the 31-year-old was relegated to the minors for the majority of the 2017 season and saw only 14 games at the big league level. He finished the year with an underwhelming .239/.294/.442 batting line and 26 home runs through 595 plate appearances for Triple-A Norfolk.

Alvarez is expected to split his time between first base and DH this spring, and MLB.com’s Brittany Ghiroli notes that he’s unlikely to experiment with another outfield role. While he isn’t too far removed from his last productive season in the majors, the veteran infielder will function purely as insurance for first baseman Chris Davis and designated hitter Mark Trumbo and will likely begin the season in the minors.