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.

Christian Yelich on Manny Machado: “it was a dirty play by a dirty player”

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As we wrote during last night’s game, the Brewers and Dodgers benches cleared after Brewers first baseman Jesus Aguilar and Dodgers shortstop Manny Machado exchanged words at first base. The exchange came after Machado dragged his left leg, slamming it into Aguilar’s leg as he crossed the bag (video of the play appears at the bottom of this article). During postgame interviews in the wee hours this morning, a couple of Brewers players took issue with Machado.

Outfielder Christian Yelich did not mince words, saying the play at first was “a dirty play by a dirty player.” When he was done answering questions, he said of Machado, “F**k that motherf***er.”

His comments in full, not including the expletive, which was noted by several assembled reporters:

You all could see how that unfolded. Everyone has their own opinion. He is a player that has a history with those types of incidents. One time is an accident. Repeated over and over again. It’s a dirty play. It’s a dirty play by a dirty player. I have a lot of respect for him as a player but you can’t respect someone who plays the game like that. it was a tough-fought baseball game. It has no place in our game. We’ve all grounded out. Run through the bag like you’ve been doing your whole life like everybody else does. If it’s an accident it’s an accident. On the replay to us, it clearly looks like you clearly go out of your way to step on someone. It just has no place in our game. It’s unacceptable. I don’t know what his problem is honestly. I’ve played against him for a long time. It has no place in the game.

Travis Shaw had his opinion too:

“Dirty play. You saw the replay. He can say all he wants that he didn’t do it, but it’s pretty obvious he meant to do it. He’s shown it multiple times throughout his career. I mean, it’s just a dirty play. A kick to his leg right there. It was not by mistake.”

Brewers manager Craig Counsell was also asked about Machado and whether he thought the play was dirty. Counsell declined to say so explicitly, but he clearly signaled that he agreed with his players, all while taking a pretty sharp swipe at Machado in his own way. At least when you remember that’s that, in baseball, the usual defense to playing “dirty” is that the guy involved is actually just “playing hard”:

Q. Two things: How did you see the play with Machado at first base? And given that, combined with the slides, do you think he’s going to beyond the grounds of playing hard?

Counsell: I don’t know. I guess they got tangled up at first base. I don’t think he’s playing all that hard.

So yes, I’d say that’s Counsell implying strongly that he thinks the play was dirty while simultaneously taking a swipe at Machado for being lazy. Which, let’s be honest, is also a fair charge given recent events.

For his part, Machado — who did apologize to Aquilar later in the game — said, “I play baseball, I try to go out there and win for my team. If that’s their comments, that’s their comments, I can’t do nothing about that.” Which, should be noted, is not a denial.

As we’ve noted, this was not the first incident involving Machado on the base paths in this series. In Game 3 Machado twice attempted to interfere with Brewers shortstop Orlando Arcia at the second base bag, getting called for interference on the second one. Anyone watching the play with Aguilar could see that Machado was trying to interfere with him too.

It may be worth noting at this point that, four years ago, Machado was suspended for five games for throwing a bat at a guy.

The Dodgers are no doubt happy with their victory, but there are likely a lot of players around the game — including, I would imagine, players on his own team — who are not too happy with what Machado has shown this series.

UPDATE: Even Dodgers luminary Orel Hershisher called out Machado’s play as dirty on the Dodgers’ very own TV network.