NEW YORK -- The Tampa Bay Rays activated left fielder Desmond Jennings from the 15-day disabled list and had him batting leadoff Tuesday night for the opener of a three-game series against the New York Yankees.
Jennings has been out since May 12 because of a sprained left knee. The team also has been playing without injured slugger Evan Longoria.
"It feels real good," Jennings said. "I get to play some important baseball again."
In Jennings' absence the Rays have gone 12-13 but still lead the Baltimore Orioles by a game in the AL East. Maddon has used Carlos Pena in the top spot in the order 10 times but with Jennings back, the slugging first baseman was set to bat sixth.
"It was nice to get Desmond back in there and move some other people around," manager Joe Maddon said.
One of those moves by Maddon was to put former Yankees star Hideki Matsui in the cleanup spot for his first game in New York since joining Tampa Bay last week. Matsui is batting .188 (3 for 16) with two homers but Maddon thinks he's been hitting the ball with much more authority.
Part of the reason Maddon has Matsui batting fourth has nothing to do with numbers, though. He thinks the 2009 World Series MVP for New York has a "flair for the dramatic."
"We stay in the theater district when we're in town and I thought it might be good theater," Maddon said. "Why not hit him fourth and have him hit a home run?"
With Jennings back in left field, Matsui will shift to right, leaving Matt Joyce, the team's co-leader with nine homers, on the bench.
The Rays optioned outfielder Rich Thompson to Triple-A Durham on Tuesday to clear a spot for Jennings.
Jennings will wear a brace for now but says he's ready to play without limits. He went 3 for 15 (.200) in a four-game rehabilitation assignment with Durham. Jennings is hitting .265 with 20 runs scored and 11 RBIs in 113 at-bats for Tampa Bay.
Longoria, who has been on the disabled list May 1, is close to going out on a rehab assignment. Maddon said he is doing baseball activities and is with the team in New York.
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press
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