© 2012 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.

07/25/12 7:52 PM ET

Longoria to start rehab assignment Thursday

BALTIMORE -- Evan Longoria is scheduled to being a rehab assignment with Triple-A Durham on Thursday, Rays manager Joe Maddon said.

Longoria plans to serve as a designated hitter with Durham, return to the Rays as a DH, then start playing third base as his hamstring allows.

"I finally get to play baseball again," Longoria said. "The plan right now is just to go out and DH, and just take it easy, and try and get back here healthy and able to contribute in that way. From the beginning, the defense has been the toughest thing."

"I'm as ready as I"m going to be right now, offensively."

No timetable has been set for Longoria's return to the Majors. Longoria and Maddon said the biggest factor will be how Longoria feels swinging the bat and how quickly he can adjust to the speed of the game.

Longoria has been sidelined since suffering a partial tear in his left hamstring on April 30, an injury that was supposed to take six-to-eight weeks to heal, but continued to linger even as eight weeks came and went.

"I think it's just going to be about how comfortable I feel," Longoria said. "If I have five good at-bats, I might say, 'Call me back up.' It's just going to be building back into it."

Longoria said the injury has it's biggest effect when he tries to reach his peak speed or perform any "explosive movements."

He's done well with fielding drills, but said trying to field ground balls on his backhand side remains a challenge.

"It's come a long way from where I was when I was talking about this same thing three weeks ago," Longoria said. "I think I've gotten clarification four different times that I'm not going to make it any worse, and that having to deal with a little bit of pain is well worth being out on the field."

Because he doesn't think he is at a significant risk of aggravating he injury, Longoria said the biggest key has been getting his strength back.

The Rays plan to ease Longoria back into action, with Maddon saying the team will give him a day off whenever he needs it.

"I think tomorrow is going to be very telling," Maddon said. "Go play. Don't try to run hard. Don't try to slide. Don't do any of that stuff. Just go play. Just see how you feel after that, and then we'll discuss it afterwards."

In the early going, Longoria expects that he'll play at a level below full speed.

"Initially, until I feel comfortable enough to go," Longoria said. "It's going to be one of those things that I'm going to have to test on a daily to weekly basis, but that will be the goal going forward."

Rays designate Matsui for assignment

BALTIMORE -- Hideki Matsui has been designated for assignment to make room for infielder Ryan Roberts on the 25- and 40-man rosters, the Rays announced on Wednesday.

The Rays have 10 days to either trade Matsui, release him or place him on waivers.

Rays manager Joe Maddon said the team did everything it could to leave Matsui with options. According to Maddon, Matsui said he'd take some time to mull over his options, including a potential return to Triple-A Durham.

"We don't know how this is all going to work out yet," Maddon said. "It's not a closed book yet, I don't think, here. We wanted to give a lot of the power to him in regards to what he wanted to do."

Shortly after the Rays acquired Roberts from the Diamondbacks, Maddon called Matsui into his office to discuss the decision.

Matsui had already left the stadium by the time Maddon met with the media on Wednesday.

"He was very grateful for the opportunity, and he was also upset at himself for not having performed better right now," Maddon said. "Very accountable, straight up, straightforward guy."

"I think he liked it here. I think he would've liked to have stayed here longer."

"It was nice having him in the clubhouse," pitcher James Shields said. "It was nice to have him on our team rather than hitting home runs against me. He's a great teammate and a good guy, so hopefully the best for him."

Matsui was mired in an 0-for-16 slump -- his last hit came July 1 -- and was hitting just .147 with two home runs and seven RBIs for the Rays since signing a Minor League deal on April 30 and having his contract purchased from Durham on May 29.

Even as the veteran was struggling, Maddon still saw Matsui's quick bat and admired the work he put in during batting practice, when he nearly hit the back wall of Tropicana Field.

"I still see the body is in good shape," Maddon said. "He's just having a hard time getting it going based on no Spring Training [and a] long layoff."

The once-feared slugger, a career .282 hitter with 175 home runs and 760 RBIs across 10 Major League seasons, has the most home runs, RBIs and walks of any Japanese player in MLB history.

"This is a Hall of Fame caliber player, based on the body of work that he's done," Maddon said. "Had he done all of that in the United States, which he may have done had he started here sooner, you're definitely talking about a player of that kind of stature."

"He's always had this way of handling himself that I always found desirable. I thought he was a big game player, a big moment player. As an opponent, you never wanted to have him come up in run-scoring situations."

After a hot start to 2012, in which Matsui hit two home runs in his first three games, the 38-year-old outfielder/designated hitter began to slow, leading to the Rays' decision to remove him from the Major League roster.

Still, Maddon left the door open for Matsui to make a return -- not just to the Majors, but to the Rays.

"You never know when that moment is going to occur that he's actually going to get it back," Maddon said. "I have a ton of respect for this man. Not a little, a ton. So for me, he's a member of the Rays and he's got every opportunity to prove that he's getting it back."

"I can't sit here and tell you that he's done. I'm not going to tell you that, because I've argued with other people in the know before about what they think and what I think, and I still see a life in him and I don't think that he's done, and I've told him that also."

Zim Bears making comeback Sept. 3

BALTIMORE -- The Zim Bear is back.

After the initial giveaway on June 29 drew 19,557 fans to Tropicana Field and spawned an internet sensation, a second Zim Bear promotion will be held prior to the Rays' Sept. 3 game against the Yankees, the team announced on Wednesday.

By popular demand, the stuffed bears, which are wearing a Rays hat and jersey and have senior baseball advisor Don Zimmer's face, will be given to the first 10,000 fans in attendance.

Opinion is split on whether the iconic bear is creepy or cute, but the fact remains that everyone wants one.

"I've got so many people wanting a Zim Bear -- from Joe Torre to people out in California," Zimmer said after the first giveaway. "Friends all over the country, my daughter up in New Hampshire -- they all want a Zim Bear."

Perhaps the most-popular giveaway of the year, the Zim Bear is selling on eBay for up to $79.99.

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