ANAHEIM -- Jeff Niemann (right fibula fracture) is with the team on its current three-stop road trip so he can continue to work with the team's trainers.

Niemann threw 50 pitches off a mound on Friday afternoon and called it his best day "by far" in his rehab.

"Felt strong the whole time," Niemann said. "Felt like today was the first day when we had some strength behind it. It was a great day. Felt like I'm capable of getting someone out.

"First day I've thrown a ball and could see some action on it. So I'm pretty pumped. That's the first time I've had that feeling since May 14 [when he got injured]."

Niemann said late August would be a reasonable projected date for his return.

Shields deflecting anxiety over trade talk

ANAHEIM -- James Shields has been the Rays player most mentioned in trade rumors as this season's Trade Deadline approaches. But the Rays right-hander does not seem rattled in the least about being in the conversations for prospective deals that might be made.

"All I can say about that is we go through this every single year," Shields said. "You hear your name pop up. It's kind of interesting to people, but for us as players, we kind of just deal with it. Go along with the flow and whatever happens is going to happen."

Shields insisted that the rumors have not been a distraction.

"I think the first couple of years it was distracting to see other guys talked about, your teammates, your friends leaving, things like that," said Shields, sounded as though he's used to the drill. "But this is my 12th year of pro ball, Minor Leagues and Major Leagues. I've seen people get released in the morning during Spring Training to getting traded in the middle of the year, traded in the offseason, so I didn't even get to say good-bye."

Like a lot of players in the Rays' clubhouse, Shields believes the Rays are still very much in contention for a playoff spot.

"Absolutely, we've got a great team," Shields said. "For as much adversity as we've [been] dealt with this year, being 2 1/2 games back is not that bad."

Shields' name has been mentioned in rumors of deals with the Angels, Dodgers, Braves, Cardinals and Rangers. Now, with Zack Greinke off the table after the Brewers dealt him to the Angels on Friday, Shields' market value likely has gone up even more.

Rays manager Joe Maddon said he could not deny that more attention will be on Shields now that Greinke is no longer available. But he doesn't believe the right-hander is going anywhere.

"At the end of the day I still believe Shieldsy is going to be a Ray after the trade deadline is over," Maddon said. "I mean, all of this conjecture does occur, and there are reasons why they're pointing at James. But I still believe in my heart of hearts that it's not going to happen. And that it's just going to move on and be normal, and he's going to pitch like he can over the last two months of the season."

Remaining with the Rays is the outcome Shields prefers.

"[The Rays have] been my home for 12 years and I love it here," Shields said. "I also know it's a business and teams have to do what they have to do to make themselves better. But I know we've got a good team here."

Longoria reports no issues after first rehab game

ANAHEIM -- Evan Longoria (partially torn left hamstring) began his rehab assignment Thursday night for Triple-A Durham at Gwinett (Braves) and went 0-for-3 with a walk as the DH in the Bulls' 8-1 loss.

Rays manager Joe Maddon reported that Longoria felt fine on Friday morning.

"We're listening to Longo," Maddon said. "Primarily, 'Can you play tonight? How sore are you? Do you feel like you need a day or not?' That's the primary conversation between Longo and us."

When asked if Monday in Oakland would be too ambitious for Longoria to return to the team, Maddon said, "It's not out of the question."

"Would I bet on it? No," Maddon said. "But again it's based on how he feels. So, is it possible? Yes. Is it likely? Probably not.

"More than likely, I'd say once we got back [to St. Petersburg on Aug. 3 to start a series with the Orioles], that's a better bet if in fact it's going to happen that quickly."

Allen heading to Japan

ANAHEIM -- The Rays have sold the rights to 1B/OF Brandon Allen to the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks of the Japanese Central League.

The Rays acquired Allen off waivers from Oakland on April 19. He batted .154 with one home run and three RBIs during his seven-game stint with the Rays. He was hitting .262 with four home runs and 14 RBIs with Triple-A Durham.

"I liked the guy," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "Would I like to keep him? Absolutely. What's the fairest thing? What just happened."

Maddon said he was happy for Allen.

"He's a great guy and I'd like to see him just tear it up over there," said Maddon, who explained that a player being sold to a Japanese team must first give his permission. "And you can't blame him. I'm sure the money's going to be better than he would be able to get here. He's got to look out for his family. I think it's a good move for him."