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Veteran Felipe Lopez thrilled to get call to join Tampa Bay Rays

ST. PETERSBURG — Felipe Lopez was preparing to drive from Port Charlotte to his Orlando-area home Sunday then fly on to Durham, N.C., tonight to open his first season at Triple A in seven years.

But then Evan Longoria got hurt, and Lopez was instead headed to Tropicana Field, pulling in in time to pull on his new Rays uniform and pinch-hit in the ninth inning Sunday, with the potential for platoon duty replacing Longoria at third base.

"I'm definitely happy to be in the big leagues," Lopez said. "It's pretty awesome. This game is unbelievable. That's why you never give up."

A veteran of 10 big-league seasons, Lopez, 30, signed a minor-league deal with the Rays and, having lost out to Elliot Johnson for the utility infield job, was headed to Durham.

"I was going to be okay either way," he said. "I'm in a good place personally and mentally, so no matter what, wherever I went, it takes hard work and dedication."

To make room on the 40-man roster, the Rays designated for assignment RHP Mike Ekstrom.

TURF TALK: Johnny Damon said the right calf tightness that forced him to be scratched from Sunday's lineup could be due to playing the first two games on the Tropicana Field AstroTurf.

"I woke up at 7 … and my right calf felt tight," he said. "I don't know what it was from. Maybe it's from the turf, I don't know."

Damon, 37, said he had no issues Friday or Saturday, when he played leftfield (and one inning at first). He was treated Sunday and though he was still sore, he expected to be ready to play Tuesday against the Angels.

Damon was signed to play leftfield, so he said there isn't much he can do if the soreness is related to the turf. "Right now I'm saying no, I hope it's not an issue ongoing," Damon said. "And it better not be an issue ongoing."

STEPPING IN: When Damon was scratched, Sam Fuld moved from rightfield to left, and he left quite an impression with several great defensive plays.

"He was pretty spectacular," Damon said.

In the first, Fuld raced into foul territory in chase of a Nick Markakis fly ball and tripped over the bullpen mound before making a sliding/falling catch. "I knew it was coming," Fuld said of the mound. "But it still didn't prevent me from face-planting." Fuld also threw out SS J.J. Hardy at home on a one-hopper to end the top of the seventh.

FOR FIRSTS: Johnson collected his first major-league RBI in a unique way, laying down a bunt single with one out in the third to score Matt Joyce from third base. Last season, the Rays had nine RBIs as a result of bunts, tops in the majors.

MINOR MATTERS: As expected, the Rays sent SS Tim Beckham to Double-A Montgomery, as well as RHPs Matt Bush and Chris Archer, LHP Matt Moore and C Nevin Ashley. In Triple-A Durham, there will be top position prospect OF Desmond Jennings, with OF Justin Ruggiano and 1B Casey Kotchman, as well as Robinson Chirinos and Jose Lobaton splitting time at catcher.

MISCELLANY: The Rays hadn't been swept by the Orioles at home since 2005. … CF B.J. Upton went 1-for-4 with a double, making him the only Rays player to collect a hit in all three games. … The Rays are off today, with no workouts scheduled.

Veteran Felipe Lopez thrilled to get call to join Tampa Bay Rays 04/03/11 [Last modified: Sunday, April 3, 2011 9:44pm]
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