ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays made DH/OF Hideki Matsui feel at home in their own unique way Tuesday afternoon, surprising him with a pregame celebration in the clubhouse.
There was music, dancing and a spinning disco ball, with Matsui —selected from Triple-A Durham on Tuesday — asked to flip on the light of the Captain Morgan sign, as if he had hit a game-winning homer.
"I was welcomed in a way that I've never experienced in my life before, let's put it that way," Matsui said through interpreter Roger Kahlon.
Matsui, 37, then delivered in his Rays debut, hitting a two-run homer while starting in leftfield in a 7-2 loss to the White Sox.
Manager Joe Maddon said Matsui, who went 1-for-4, had an "outstanding" first game, looking good at the plate and moving well.
"We lost the game, but from a personal standpoint, it was nice to hit my first home run," Matsui said.
Matsui, a two-time All-Star and former World Series MVP, had signed a minor-league deal with the Rays on April 30. He played 13 games for Durham, hitting just .170. But executive VP Andrew Friedman said the 47 at-bat stint in the minors served as the veteran's "spring training," and he told the team he was ready to come up. To make room, C Stephen Vogt was optioned to Durham and OF Brandon Guyer (left shoulder surgery) was moved to the 60-day disabled list to create a 40-man roster spot.
Matsui is expected to play some designated hitter, outfield and pinch hit; Maddon pointed out Matsui is equally tough against lefties and righties (hitting .285 in his career vs. each).
"He's another big bat,'' CF B.J. Upton said. "Just his name alone, having him in that lineup or available to come off the bench is definitely going to be big for us over the long haul."
With Matsui's usual No. 55 worn by LHP Matt Moore, he picked No. 35, joking "it was nice to at least be able to keep one '5' out of the two."
Matsui, followed by about 30 Japanese media members, said he felt good physically after Tuesday's game, and was "very happy" to hear warm ovations before each at-bat. As for the unique pregame welcome, RHP James Shields said they wanted to show him how positive and fun they are.
Said Maddon: "I think it's about trying to get him accustomed to the cultural shift he's about to experience by playing here."
BACK TO BASICS: With the Rays adding several players in recent weeks, Maddon thought Tuesday was a good time to go through a pregame "refresher course" on fundamental drills. "In spring training, you work on this stuff often and then all of a sudden here comes the next seven months and you never do it at all," Maddon said. "I don't believe in that, I believe you need to work on these little things throughout the course of the year."
MEDICAL MATTERS: Maddon said OF Desmond Jennings (left knee sprain) continued to progress well and Thursday could start a rehab assignment that could last a week. Maddon said 3B Evan Longoria (partial tear left hamstring) is about 2-3 weeks away from beginning serious baseball activities, like a rehab assignment.
DRAFT BREEZE: With the Rays preparing for a different draft Monday, with the No. 25 pick after boasting 10 selections in the top 60 last year, scouting director R.J. Harrison said they'll have a different mindset.
"There's going to be players where you look and if we don't take him with our first pick, more than likely this player won't be there," he said. "There's a big gap (No. 25, then 88). But we're still going to get good players."