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07/24/12 7:50 PM ET

Fuld activated from DL, returns to lineup

BALTIMORE -- The Rays finally have their spark plug back.

Outfielder Sam Fuld, four months and a day removed from injuring his right wrist during Spring Training, was activated from the disabled list on Tuesday and immediately inserted in the starting lineup, playing left field and batting seventh against the Orioles.

"It's just nice to have him back," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "He was a big part of the beginning of last year. When everything had gone awry, Sam came on and the legend was born. I'd like to see the sequel with that, actually, this year. Sam could make a huge impact on us."

Maddon took time Tuesday to float a few possible titles, including "Austin Powers: Fuldmember" and "The Fuldfather."

To earn his own self-titled story, Fuld will have to replicate his first few months of 2011, when he hit .240 in 105 games, stole 20 bases and made electrifying plays in the field.

"Sam Fuld is the reason the Rays were the Rays last year," pitcher David Price said. "He propelled us through that first month and a half, two months of the season last year. If we didn't have Sam Fuld, I don't know what would've happened last year."

Fuld's right wrist, which required preseason surgery, has kept him from making any kind of impact thus far in 2012.

Even as he progressed to a 10-game rehab assignment over which he hit .161 between Class A Charlotte and Triple-A Durham, Fuld said it "felt like Spring Training, but even worse" as he struggled to get back in the flow during his first few games.

"It was a slow process," Fuld said.

But, as time progressed, Fuld said he gradually started to get more comfortable and have better at-bats, to the point where he feels "ready to go."

"I feel like, if needed, I can play every day," Fuld said. "I'm pretty happy with where it's at. It's maybe a little bit sore after games, but by the next day it's back to where it should be. It never really enters my mind when I'm out there hitting or at any point in the game."

Maddon said his biggest concern was how quickly Fuld can get in the flow of Major League action again, adding that he'll be careful not to abuse Fuld by playing him too often.

Either way, Fuld will provide a valuable spell to outfielders Desmond Jennings and B.J. Upton, who were pressed into playing every game of the team's recent 10-game homestand on the unforgiving turf.

Upton served as the Rays' designated hitter on Tuesday, while Desmond Jennings moved up to the leadoff spot after nine games in which he hit .333 out of the No. 7 position.

Jennings is hitting .232 at leadoff this season, but Maddon said he liked the idea of keeping him and Upton at one and two in the Rays' order, as they were Tuesday.

Maddon hopes that Jennings, in particular, will be the leadoff hitter he's proven capable of being so far in his career.

"I want to believe that he's going to be back for good," Maddon said. "I really do believe if we're going to go to the promised land, he needs to be at the top of the batting order doing his thing.

"Maybe getting him back to the top will spur him on a little bit further."

Longoria inching closer to rehab assignment

BALTIMORE -- Evan Longoria took what manager Joe Maddon called a positive step forward during a pregame workout on Tuesday in Baltimore, giving hope that the third baseman could begin a rehab assignment during the team's current nine-game road trip.

"He was pleased, and I was pleased watching him. Nice progress," Maddon said. "He may be a little bit closer than you think to being out and doing something and coming back to us."

Longoria was moved to the 60-day disabled list on Tuesday to make room for Sam Fuld on the 40-man roster, a move that has no effect on when Longoria can return from a partial tear in his left hamstring that he sustained on April 30.

After watching Longoria work on his hitting, throwing, fielding and baserunning on Tuesday, Maddon was "optimistic" about the third baseman's progress.

If Longoria can successfully handle another workout, Maddon and the training staff would likely feel comfortable starting a rehab assignment. The biggest thing they're still looking to see is Longoria's strength level in the leg.

Longoria had said his biggest issue was fielding ground balls with his backhand, but he did so without issue on Tuesday.

"He was not favoring the leg when he ran," Maddon said. "Unlike the last time we saw him, he was more guarding. He wasn't really guarding that I could see this time, so it was a good day."

Once Longoria begins a rehab assignment, Maddon said he would probably only need three or four games "maximum" to be ready to return to the Majors.

The biggest strides he needs to make in rehab starts would be offensively, as he can work on the defensive side of the game in workouts. Maddon even left the door open to the Rays using Longoria as a designated hitter.

"There's nothing wrong with that," Maddon said. "We'll see how it all plays out."

Luke Scott is also taking a wait-and-see approach with the right external oblique strain he suffered on Friday that has forced him to the disabled list.

Scott said the key is letting the injury calm down for about five days before he starts swinging a bat again. He still expects to make a minimum disabled list stint.

Pitcher Jeff Niemann threw his second bullpen session on Tuesday, firing 35 pitches -- all fastballs and changeups -- and saying he felt great and that the day was another good building block.

Progress coming back from a fractured fibula to his push leg has taken time, and Niemann said the key was getting strength back in his ankle.

"The arm feels great," Niemann said. "It's just a matter of getting everything else back into sync and in rhythm."

Niemann threw his first bullpen session on Saturday and expects to throw another on Friday, following a pair of off days.

As he builds up strength and mixes his breaking ball back into his repertoire, Niemann will eventually progress to simulated games and then a rehab assignment.

"It'd be nice to get all of these guys back," Maddon said. "It'd be so nice to have our normal team, and just see where we can go with that. We're getting close to that once again."

Greg Luca is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.