TORONTO -- Rays righty Jeff Niemann, scheduled to start Sunday's contest against the Blue Jays, was scratched following the Rays' 17-11 loss on Saturday.
The 27-year-old had been experiencing soreness in the back of his right shoulder since his last outing on Tuesday against the Twins. After briefly throwing on Saturday, Niemann decided it would be in his best interest to skip one start in the rotation.
"It's just been sore," Niemann said. "It's been getting significantly better each day, and it's at a point where I'd rather take the improvements I've made these past few days and not go out and push it and fall back to square one."
Manager Joe Maddon noticed in Niemann's last outing that the big right-hander's control was not as sharp as it has been in the past. Niemann, who issued two walks, a single and a home run in the game's first inning, settled down to throw seven innings. The 27-year-old has pitched 141 1/3 innings in just his second full season in the big leagues.
"His command has been off a bit for a while," Maddon said. "It's kind of unusual to watch under those circumstances, because he's the one guy that I've always talked about among everyone on our staff having the most consistent and best command of our group. On top of that he throws the largest variety of pitches -- fastball, curveball, slider, cutter and split -- [which] he's always been really good about.
"I'm sure it's something that he'll work back through, but it's been kind of unusual to watch."
Right-hander Andy Sonnanstine will make the spot start in place of Niemann on Sunday. Sonnanstine was activated from the 15-day disabled list with a strained right hamstring on Saturday, with Dale Thayer being optioned back to Triple-A Durham. It will be his first Major League start since Sept. 16, 2008.
"With Sonny being here coming off the DL that was not the original plan at all, not the concept," Maddon said. "We were just kind of lucky in the sense that he was here and able to start a game tomorrow. Also that had an impact today regarding the bullpen usage and how we were able to do that."
Despite pitching 1 1/3 innings with Class A Advanced Charlotte on Thursday, Maddon said he has no hard pitch count for Sonnanstine, hoping to get five solid innings.
Crawford gets second straight day off
TORONTO -- Rays outfielder Carl Crawford was once again absent from the starting lineup in Saturday's 17-11 loss to the Blue Jays.
This is the second time in as many days the 29-year-old has been out of the lineup, but according to manager Joe Maddon, he simply wanted to give Crawford an extra day off of the turf at Rogers Centre.
Maddon also added that Crawford's left shoulder, which caused the outfielder to miss a couple games in June, was a non-issue in his decision.
"There is nothing not healthy about him," Maddon said. "Just trying to perk up his body. The shoulder has nothing to do with it at all. It's nothing about the shoulder just [general] soreness. We're trying to revive his body a little bit."
With only 53 games remaining entering Saturday's contest, Maddon emphasized the importance of having all of his players healthy approaching the last leg of the season.
"With all of our guys my biggest concern is to have them all healthy, well [and] strong playing into October and the end of October," Maddon said. "We really try to keep that in mind, regardless of our age, and we can talk about Carl today, I know we're considered young but guys get sore. Guys get tired regardless of what's on your birth certificate.
"With all these guys, [I'm] really hoping we can get them to the point where they are all really strong by the end of September."
Crawford should return to the starting lineup on Sunday as the Rays wrap up their three-game series in Toronto.
Maddon stacks lineup with lefties
TORONTO -- Albeit unconventional, Rays manager Joe Maddon opted to have four left-handed hitters in his starting lineup against Blue Jays southpaw Brad Mills in Saturday's 17-11 loss.
Dan Johnson, Matt Joyce, John Jaso and Reid Brignac were all in the lineup, hitting second, fourth, seventh and ninth, respectively. The only left-handed hitter not in the batting order was outfielder Carl Crawford, who was given a day off to recuperate from general soreness.
While Maddon had suggested playing right-handed catcher Kelly Shoppach throughout the weekend, his scouting report suggested otherwise. According to Maddon and his intel, Mills -- making only his second start of the 2010 season -- stacks up far better against righties.
"The information I got from my staff back home, the advance scouting is that this guy is kind of a reverse-split guy," Maddon said. "He's a heavy changeup guy [with] a big slow curveball, [and] he doesn't throw hard."
Mills, replacing the injured Jesse Litsch, limited the Orioles to only two hits and no runs in his previous outing on July 28.
Relief pitcher Andy Sonnanstine rejoined the Rays on Friday and is expected to be activated within the next few days. ... The Rays lost on Friday night despite allowing just two runs, both unearned. It was the 105th time in team history that the Rays have not allowed an earned run in a game and just the second time they have lost. The other came on May 19, 2009, when they fell to Oakland, 4-1. ... Entering Saturday the Rays had the American League leader in wins -- David Price 14 -- and saves -- Rafael Soriano 31. The last time a team finished the season with the outright leaders in both categories was in 1994 -- the Yankees with Andy Pettitte (21 wins) and John Wetteland (43 saves).
James Hall is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.