Shortstop Jason Bartlett ran the bases prior to Monday's 4-0 win against Oakland and even took a turn in the portable sliding pit set up along the first-base foul line. Afterward, he said his right knee, which he sprained while stealing third base against Boston on July 2, was nearly good enough for him to return to the lineup.
"It won't be 100 percent, but it's definitely playable," Bartlett said.
Bartlett said he should be ready to rejoin the team Thursday when the Rays open a four-game series at Kansas City.
Tyler's Take: Although Bartlett has one of the lowest OPS totals (.592) in the majors, he has tremendous range at shortstop and the Rays need him back up the middle. The Rays rank second in the game in defensive efficiency, but none of the other Tampa Bay players to fill innings at the position this season have made an out of zone play. He is great to have at short, and the pitching staff will benefit when he returns from the disabled list.
The Rays have to decide which player leaves the roster when he returns. Infielder Ben Zobrist seems to be the likely choice, yet Zobrist is the only player who can play shortstop.
Manager Joe Maddon had used rookie third baseman Evan Longoria at shortstop once in place of Bartlett, but thinks he needs a more experienced third baseman because he plans on giving Bartlett more days off when he does return to the roster.
"When J.B. comes back, I don't know if it would be wise to push him four or five days in a row," Maddon said.
That could mean Willy Aybar, who can play everywhere in the infield except shortstop, might be the odd man out.
Bartlett said his playing time shouldn't be an issue. He expects to play every day.
"I have to," he said. "That's why I waited so long (to come back). To play every day."
RAYS 4, ATHLETICS 0: Scott Kazmir struck out nine and allowed two hits in seven innings, winning for only the second time in his last eight starts. It was the longest outing for the lefty since he pitched eight innings at Texas on June 6, a stretch of eight starts. With the win, he lowered his ERA to 2.80. The 24-year-old left-hander, who was pushed back a few days after earning the win for the American League in the All-Star game, threw 103 pitches, 69 for strikes. He is now 8-5 on the season with a 109-to-39 K/W ratio.
—3B Evan Longoria hit his team-leading 19th home run in the fifth inning. He has homered in his last three games, marking the second time he's homered in three consecutive games this season. He also leads all major league rookies in home runs.
—The Rays won for the 58th time this season. They didn't win their 58th game until their 140th game last season, which was played on Sept. 5.
—RHP Grant Balfour and LHP J.P. Howell each pitched a perfect inning and combined with LHP Scott Kazmir on the team's club-record ninth shutout of the season.
—CF B.J. Upton had a pair of steals to give him 30 this year. He's the fourth player in team history to steal at least 30 bases in one season, joining Carl Crawford (four times), Julio Lugo and Jason Tyner. It was also the sixth time this season Upton has stolen at least two bases in one game.
—DH Willy Aybar belted his fourth home run of the season. He has four home runs in 136 at-bats this year after entering this season with five home runs in 329 career at-bats.
BY THE NUMBERS: 6 — Number of saves in save opportunities by the Rays' bullpen during the 14 games closer Troy Percival spent on the disabled list.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Definitely one of my prouder at-bats." -- Rookie 3B Evan Longoria, after hitting his first career grand slam off Toronto's Roy Halladay on Saturday.
SS Jason Bartlett (sprained right knee) went on the 15-day disabled list July 3. He may return on July 24.
RHP Troy Percival (left hamstring strain) went on the 15-day disabled list July 1. He was impressive throwing 30 pitches to hitters July 17 and he was activated on July 20.
RHP Al Reyes (right shoulder tendonitis) went on the 15-day disabled list June 15. Reyes was throwing bullpen sessions as of June 28, and he began a minor league rehab assignment July 8. He was activated July 18.
OF/DH Rocco Baldelli (leg fatigue) opened the season on the 60-day disabled list. He played on a rehab assignment with Class A Vero Beach from June 16-29, then was held out. He started a new rehab assignment with Class AA Montgomery on July 16.
RHP Chad Orvella (sore right shoulder) opened the season on the 15-day disabled list, and he was transferred to the 60-day DL on April 13. He had season-ending surgery May 23 to repair an impingement.
The Rays might not have enough offense to win the East, writes Dayn Perry.
Scott Kazmir was eager and effective against the A's, writes Joe Smith.
The Rays stung the A's.
Jason Bartlett is close to being activated, writes Joe Smith.
Perhaps copying John Henry of the Boston Red Sox, Andrew Friedman and Matthew Silverman greeted fans at the front gate of Tropicana Field, writes Lane DeGregory.
Reid Brignac wants to reach 3,000 hits, writes Jesse Spector.
Tyler Hissey contributed to this report.