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.

Jordan Hicks throws 105 MPH twice against Phillies

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One likely wouldn’t guess it based on his strikeout rate, but Cardinals reliever Jordan Hicks is one of the hardest-throwing pitchers in the game. The right-hander hit 105 MPH on the radar gun twice during Sunday’s appearance against the Phillies, according to Statcast.

Hicks was asked if he could throw harder than 105 MPH. He said, “I surprised myself yesterday (when he reached (103.8 MPH), I surprised myself today. We’ll see.”

Hicks got the final four outs of Sunday’s 5-1 victory over the Phillies. He walked two and struck out one. He carries a 2.05 ERA but has only nine strikeouts and 16 walks in 22 innings this season.