Tampa Bay Rays may activate Matt Joyce today

Welcome back: Former Ray Johnny Damon acknowledges applause before his at-bat in the third. Damon went 2-for-3 with a run.

JAMES BORCHUCK Times

Welcome back: Former Ray Johnny Damon acknowledges applause before his at-bat in the third. Damon went 2-for-3 with a run.

ST. PETERSBURG — OF Matt Joyce is expected to be back at Tropicana Field today and could be activated from the disabled list, giving the Rays offense a much-needed boost.

Joyce, out since mid June with oblique and back strains, went 1-for-5 while playing DH in his second rehab game for Class A Charlotte Monday.

Joyce tweeted Monday night he was driving back from Daytona Beach and will "see (you) guys on the field (today)." "I'm baaaaaaack!!" he tweeted.

The Rays wouldn't confirm Joyce's activation, only that he will be re-evaluated today by the team's athletic training staff.

"He's very close," manager Joe Maddon said.

Maddon said Joyce's return will make for an "interesting" decision on who goes to make room. They could part with DH/OF Hideki Matsui, who is hitting .165, or option INFs Brooks Conrad or Will Rhymes to the minors.

LIKE home: Indians LF Johnny Damon has played for seven teams, so he has experienced his share of reunions.

But coming back to Tropicana Field on Monday to face the Rays was extra special for the 38-year-old veteran, who expected and hoped to return after playing for Tampa Bay in 2011.

"I miss not being here every day," Damon said. "I'm not going to sugarcoat it at all. It feels like home."

Rays fans made Damon feel at home with cheers before his first at-bat in the third inning and applauded even after he ripped a double off RHP Alex Cobb. They also welcomed back Indians 1B Casey Kotchman, a Seminole High product and another key part of the Rays' wild-card run last season.

Damon, who went 2-for-3, said he's proud the Rays have kept the tradition of lighting the Captain Morgan lamp in postgame celebrations, considering he brought it in last year. "I don't want to hear about it being lit up the next four days," he said with a smile.

FAMILY MATTERS: Kotchman was excited he got to visit with family in the area, saying he was "spoiled" last year by playing for his hometown team: "A tremendous blessing." He said he'd also be open to returning to the Rays. "You never know," he said.

TRADE WINDS: Though RHP James Shields is the latest Ray to be named in trade rumors, manager Joe Maddon reiterated he doesn't anticipate t any big moves before the July 31 deadline.

Maddon said the Rays' goal is still to win the American League East, despite entering Monday trailing the Yankees by 8½ games, and "you want to stay as strong as you possibly can, you're not looking to lose people."

"I like the idea of maintaining the core of the group," Maddon said. "Because, honestly, if you look at Aug. 1 acquisitions and the impact that has been made by those guys, I think sometimes that's overblown a little bit, quite frankly."

UP TOP: INF Will Rhymes led off for the second straight game and went 0-for-2 with two walks. But LF Desmond Jennings will eventually reclaim the role. Maddon has liked Jennings' progress lower in the order. He went 2-for-3 Monday with a home run and a sacrifice bunt.

MEDICAL MATTERS: OF Sam Fuld (right wrist surgery) went 1-for-3 with a walk for Triple-A Durham in his sixth rehab game after five with Charlotte.

• Maddon said 3B Evan Longoria (partially torn left hamstring) could travel with the team on its West Coast trip next week so it can monitor him closely. There's still no timetable on his return.

MISCELLANY: C Jose Molina played in his 56th game of the season, one more than he did all last year with Toronto. Maddon said the Rays' goal was for Molina to play in half their games but pointed out he may get "100 or so." Molina's career high is 100, in 2008 with the Yankees.

Tampa Bay Rays may activate Matt Joyce today 07/16/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 17, 2012 1:39am]

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