Tampa Bay Rays leftfielder Rich Thompson relishes return to majors

Rays leftfielder Rich Thompson, in the majors for the first time since 2004, can't get to David Ortiz's single in the first inning. JAMES BORCHUCK   |   Times
Rays leftfielder Rich Thompson, in the majors for the first time since 2004, can't get to David Ortiz's single in the first inning.JAMES BORCHUCK | Times
Published May 18 2012
Updated May 18 2012

ST. PETERSBURG — LF Rich Thompson was pumped to get his first big-league start Thursday considering it took 13 pro seasons to accomplish the feat.

And Thompson, 33, made it a memorable one, picking up his first career hit, an RBI single up the middle in the fourth inning, and stealing two bases, showing the speed the Rays craved when they acquired him from the Phillies on Wednesday.

Though his family lives in Tampa's Westchase suburb, Thompson didn't believe his wife, Teresa, would make it to the game. She had to attend the preschool graduation of their 5-year-old daughter, Charlotte, in Safety Harbor.

"I'll probably tell her to get a good night's sleep," Thompson said. "(Wednesday) was kind of crazy for everybody."

The whirlwind was welcomed by Thompson, whose only other stint in the majors came over a six-game stretch in 2004 with the Royals. On April 20, he hit into a double play off Indians C Tim Laker in the first swing of his only at-bat.

"That was a little disappointing," said Thompson, who stole a base and scored the winning run as a pinch-runner on April 10.

Thompson said he felt a lot less nervous and "more normal" this time, getting the start in leftfield.

"I'm a little more confident," Thompson said. "Now I kind of feel like I know who I am now."

Thompson believes his style of play fits well with the Rays, whom his kids grew up watching. He said his son, Clay, 7, wanted him to wear a Rays shirt in previous years. But with Thompson in the Phillies organization, he joked, it "wasn't politically correct."

BOUNCE BACK: Rays INF Will Rhymes said he felt better than expected the day after he was hit on the right forearm by a pitch, then passed out at first base. "I was a little nauseous (in the) morning and stuff," he said.

"The arm actually feels pretty good, surprisingly. I took all the wraps off expecting to see something out of a horror movie, but it wasn't that bad. Obviously, it's swollen. I look kind of jacked, so this could be a good thing."

Though the athletic training staff did not allow him to do baseball activities, Rhymes said he was "pretty optimistic" about being on the field tonight against the Braves.

Rhymes said he appreciated the concern expressed by people, including Boston pitcher Franklin Morales, who sent him a text message Wednesday night.

Rhymes is staying with former high school and youth league teammate Jeff Niemann and said they got home in time to watch a replay of the play on TV.

"We turned the TV on literally the pitch before it happened, so I didn't really have time to look away," Rhymes said. "I kind of wanted to see it. I know it hit me square. It's hard to watch."

GOING NATIONAL: RHP James Shields won't hit tonight in his home start against Atlanta but hopes to continue his success against the National League. Last year he went 3-1 with a 1.32 ERA, 42 strikeouts and three complete games. That more than made up for going 0-for-8 with five strikeouts at the plate. "I guess when you get four at-bats in a game, you're doing pretty good on the mound," he said.

PITCHING IN: Manager Joe Maddon said the Rays had decided on Saturday's starter but wouldn't announce it because the pitcher hadn't been told. It was expected to be RHP Alex Cobb or RHP Chris Archer.

MEDICAL MATTERS: 3B Evan Longoria (hamstring) fielded ground balls Thursday afternoon, not moving too much laterally but looking good. "I'm progressing well," he said.

MINOR MATTERS: DH/OF Hideki Matsui went 0-for-3 with a run scored in his third game for Triple-A Durham. The game drew 48 Japanese media members and featured Red Sox RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka, who allowed five runs (four earned) over 62/3 innings. … OF Brandon Allen (right quad strain) began a rehabilitation stint with Class A Charlotte, going 0-for-3 with a walk.