AL co-player of the week Johnny Damon hoping to return to Tampa Bay Rays by Thursday

ST. PETERSBURG — LF/DH Johnny Damon would have felt better about winning American League co-player of the week honors if his injured left ring finger felt good enough for him to get back in the lineup.

"It's nice to be recognized and I'm glad we won those five games, but I'd definitely like it more if my finger was better," Damon said.

Damon sat out Monday's game and at best could be available to pinch-hit (or pinch-run) tonight, depending on how quickly the swelling subsides. He and the Rays hope he can start again by Thursday's homestand finale.

"Hopefully I can start gripping a bat in the next day or so," Damon said. "As soon as I can grip a bat, I'll be back in there regardless of whatever results come out of it. I know the importance of me being in the lineup and helping turn it over, and just the presence the opposing pitcher has to think a little extra about."

Manager Joe Maddon said Damon was still "very sore" and they should have a better read today on when he can return. "I'd like to believe he'd be able to play (by Thursday), but I'm really not certain," Maddon said.

Damon, who shared the AL award with Angels RHP Dan Haren, hit .375 with a league-high 11 RBIs in the week ending Sunday, earning the honor for the third time in his career.

LONGO'S RETURN: 3B Evan Longoria was eligible to come off the DL, but he and the Rays will be pleased if he's back by his target date of April 29.

Longoria, sidelined April 2 by a left oblique strain, is feeling good and will take "dry" swings — meaning no ball — with a light bat today. He'll then increase activity with hopes of taking batting practice in Toronto by Sunday then going on a four-day rehab assignment with Double-A Montgomery or Triple-A Durham and rejoining the Rays when they get back from Minnesota.

"I feel good now; it's that progression that we have to follow," he said. "In the long run, it's probably the best thing because you get it back to 100 percent, and I feel 100 percent confident that I'm not going to re-injure it.''

Longoria reported to spring training noticeably bulkier, having added about 10 pounds of muscle during workouts at the API facility in Arizona, but said he didn't think that contributed to his injury. "I felt better, I felt more agile and more flexible coming into spring, so who knows,'' he said.

TIME OFF: CF B.J. Upton asked for a day off and Maddon gave him Monday, sensing that "his legs have been getting a little bit heavy" and that playing on the Astroturf is an issue. "I know he's a young man, whatever, but this stuff does take it's toll," he said. … 1B Dan Johnson also was out of the lineup, having been hit by a pitch on the left wrist Sunday.

J.P. DUTY: LHP J.P. Howell (left shoulder surgery) today throws the last of three scheduled batting practice sessions before heading out for 8-10 minor-league appearances (progressing from extended spring to Class A Charlotte to Durham) with a mid May return targeted.

MINOR MATTERS: Durham LHP Alex Torres was named International League pitcher of the week for going 1-0 in two starts with no earned runs and 17 strikeouts. … OF Justin Ruggiano hit a three-run walkoff homer in the 11th to give Durham a 6-5 win. … SS Hak-Ju Lee, the prospect acquired from the Cubs, made his debut for Charlotte, having been sidelined by chicken pox.

MISCELLANY: The Rays scored first for the fourth time. … Today is the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon at the Hilton in Carillon with exec VP Andrew Friedman the featured speaker; see business.stpete.com for info. … RHP Jeff Niemann said an Internet report that he changed agents to the Hendricks brothers was a little late — by about four years.

AL co-player of the week Johnny Damon hoping to return to Tampa Bay Rays by Thursday 04/18/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 19, 2011 12:02am]

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