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Tampa Bay Rays' Desmond Jennings ready to go full speed in return from injury

NEW YORK — LF Desmond Jennings joked that he was a little worried 1B Carlos Peña would take the leadoff spot from him, considering the slugger filled in there while he was on the disabled list with a left knee sprain.

"I'm glad I got it back," Jennings said, smiling.

So are the Rays, who activated Jennings from the DL Tuesday and put him right back at the top spot against the Yankees. Both Jennings and manager Joe Maddon said the speedy outfielder will play with no restrictions after missing 21 games.

Jennings went 1-for-4 with a single, and Maddon was encouraged with his quick bat and how he moved in the field.

"It feels really good to be able to play some important baseball again," Jennings said. "It feels really good to be back."

Jennings said he will wear a brace on the knee for a while, but he doesn't think it will slow him down as he got more comfortable with it while on his four-game minor-league rehab assignment. He initially didn't think he'd need a DL stint, but he is glad he took the patient route. The Rays went 12-13 without him.

"I wanted to make sure it was good, make sure I could actually do things to help the team," Jennings said. "So it was miss a few games early better than missing a few late. So it was good."

To make room for Jennings, OF Rich Thompson was optioned to Triple-A Durham.

MATSUI MANIA: RF Hideki Matsui received a warm welcome in his return to Yankee Stadium, both by the dozens of members of the New York and Japanese media and the fans, who greeted him with "Mat-su-I, Mat-su-i!" chants as he took the field in right in the first.

Maddon said he started Matsui in the cleanup spot on a hunch, noting the former two-time All-Star and World Series MVP has a "flair for the dramatic," and predicted he might hit a home run.

Matsui finished 0-for-4.

"I was wrong, I thought Hideki was going to hit that home run," Maddon said. I'm sorry. … It's forthcoming, so stay tuned."

Matsui, who spent seven seasons with New York after coming over from Japan, hinted he'd consider himself a Yankee after his career is over.

"Unless something beyond my imagination and beyond what happened here comes along, most probably my impression of my Yankees experience will probably be the strongest," he said.

STARRY NIGHT: Despite missing more than a month with a hamstring injury, Rays 3B Evan Longoria ranks third among AL third basemen in All-Star voting, according to MLB's first update released Tuesday.

Longoria, who has a partial left hamstring tear, is expected to start a rehab assignment in the middle of this month, and Maddon has said he will "probably" return before the All-Star break.

CF B.J. Upton ranks 16th among AL outfielders. OF Matt Joyce, an All-Star last year who is having another strong season, is not among the top 15 outfielders.

"It's one of those things, it's a little bit smaller of a market, so you kind of have to rely on other sources to get the vote," Joyce said. "I think every player that's on the top of their list, to make an All-Star Game, go back to the All-Star Game, really to get there every year."

Maddon said several Rays are deserving, believing their top candidates are RHP James Shields, LHP David Price, RHP Fernando Rodney and Joyce.

MISCELLANY: Maddon said Joyce wasn't in the lineup because the Rays like to match him up against the right lefties, and he liked Peña and DH Luke Scott more against LHP Andy Pettitte. … RHP Alex Cobb is excited for tonight's first start in Yankee Stadium, hoping to have the same stuff as last outing. LHP Cesar Ramos matched his career-longest outing (three innings) … Longoria spent Tuesday morning in Central Park filming a PSA on prevention of dating violence at the request of Vice President Joe Biden.

Tampa Bay Rays' Desmond Jennings ready to go full speed in return from injury 06/05/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 6, 2012 1:18am]

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