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Tampa Bay Rays give Hideki Matsui starting nod on his 38th birthday

ST. PETERSBURG — When Hideki Matsui entered the clubhouse Tuesday afternoon, the Japanese media had a surprise waiting for him outside: a birthday cake.

The Japanese superstar receives one from the group every year, and this edition included a blue Tampa Bay Rays hat, a baseball and the number 38 in red icing in honor of his 38th birthday.

The reporters weren't the only ones to make note of Matsui's special day, as manager Joe Maddon started him over Luke Scott at DH precisely for that reason.

"It's Matsui's birthday, he's got to play," Maddon said. "There's no reason to not play him. Really, it would be insane on my part to walk away from this potential big night that he's going to have. Sometimes you've got to look beyond the stats, data and numbers and just look at the birthday."

Matsui has a history of producing on his birthday as well. In 2008, he hit a grand slam while with the Yankees in a 4-1 victory over the A's. The next year, he hit a three-run home run in the sixth inning of a 9-8 victory over the Mets.

Matsui started off well this year, too. In the first inning, he came to the plate with the bases loaded and one out and hit a first-pitch fastball off the rightfield wall to tie the score at 1. In nine career birthday games, Matsui has 11 RBIs.

ZOBRIST SCRATCHED: Ben Zobrist was slated to bat fifth and play second base when the lineup was first posted but was scratched with soreness in his right hand. Zobrist was hit by a throw as he slid into second base in the fourth inning Saturday against the Marlins. He stayed in that game and hit a single in his next at-bat but was still sore Tuesday. X-rays were negative, and he is listed as day-to-day.

"I hope it's like hour-to-hour, actually," Maddon said.

After the game, Zobrist said he could not have hit but was available for pinch-running or defensive purposes. When asked if he thought he could play today, he said, "Hopefully."

MORE MEDICAL MATTERS: 3B Evan Longoria ran for the second time as he attempts to come back from his partially torn left hamstring. He also took ground balls and hit during batting practice, but Maddon said Longoria will need at least one more day of running before he would begin a rehab assignment.

"He's still not 100 (percent) yet, so he's going to do it again on Thursday before the day game, and if everything goes well, we might be able to move it along from there," Maddon said of Longoria, who has been on the disabled list since May 3.

Meanwhile, RH reliever Kyle Farnsworth said he felt no ill effects from his blink-of-an-eye relief effort — his first live action of 2012 — Monday for Class A Charlotte.

His line: one inning, zero runs, one hit, five total pitches.

"Three four-seamers, two sinkers," said Farnsworth, who began the season on the DL with a strained right elbow. "It was pain-free and that was the main issue."

Farnsworth will throw another inning (maximum 25 pitches, he said) Thursday at Jupiter. He said he hopes to re-join the Rays in time for the last homestand of the month.

OLD FRIENDS: While Maddon and Mets manager Terry Collins go back to their time together in the Angels organization (Maddon was Collins' bench coach while Collins was manager from 1997-99), Rays CF B.J. Upton and Mets 3B David Wright grew up as teammates, playing on the same summer travel team for three years beginning when Upton was 9 years old. The pair played on the same fall ball team for the next four years and the same high school team for two.

"He used to pick me up in the mornings before we'd go to school, and we'd go to the cage and hit together and then head over to school," Upton said. "I'm sure we'll be talking trash."

Tampa Bay Rays give Hideki Matsui starting nod on his 38th birthday 06/12/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 12, 2012 11:16pm]
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