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09/17/12 6:57 PM ET

Rodriguez's hand sore, but cleared to swing bat

ST. PETERSBURG -- Infielder Sean Rodriguez, who came off the disabled list Saturday, said he was cleared to start swinging again after seeing a doctor for an X-ray on Monday.

Rodriguez, who suffered a broken hand in mid-August when he punched a locker while playing for Triple-A Durham, said he took batting practice in the cages, took soft toss and swung off a tee on Monday.

"It felt good," Rodriguez said about picking up a bat again. "A little soreness. It's a fracture, you're going to feel that, but it felt awesome."

Rodriguez added that he'll take batting practice on the field before Tuesday's matchup with the Red Sox.

Manager Joe Maddon added that he is comfortable having Rodriguez pinch-hit or even make a start if the matchups play right.

"Last couple games he was primarily [available] as a defensive replacement or as a bunter extraordinaire, but that didn't show up," Maddon said, "but he's cleared full go."

Rodriguez said that from the defensive end, there is no pain when throwing.

In 107 games, Rodriguez is batting .215 with six homers and 32 RBIs.

Maddon optimistic as Rays enter stretch run

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays may have gone just 1-5 in their pivotal road trip to Baltimore and New York, but they still received a warm greeting by a dozen fans at the airport Sunday night.

Manager Joe Maddon said he enjoyed seeing the fans and their banners, which encouraged the team to finish strong until game No. 162.

Of course, Maddon's club did just that a year ago, overcoming a big deficit in the standings to overtake the collapsing Red Sox on the last day of the regular season to win the American League Wild Card.

"We just have to believe that we can do this," Maddon said. "We've got to come out and we've got to prove it. We've got to do it nightly. We have to have a short memory."

The Rays entered Monday's game vs. the Red Sox five games behind the AL East-leading Yankees and four back in the AL Wild Card standings to another division rival, the Orioles.

Maddon maintained that his team is still not out of the race and said the Rays need to take advantage of the opportunity when it presents itself.

"Just like we stubbed our toe last week, somebody can do the same thing this week," Maddon said. "We have to be in a position to take advantage of that toe stubbing."

Though Tampa Bay concluded its season series with New York on Sunday, the Rays will play one more series against Baltimore from Oct. 1-3, the last series of the year that could again decide its fate.

Fuld unsure when he'll return to action

ST. PETERSBURG -- A right hamstring injury forced Rays outfielder Sam Fuld out of Sunday's loss to the Yankees, and an MRI on Monday confirmed he is dealing with a moderate strain.

Fuld was slated to see a doctor Monday night and then would have a better idea of when he could return.

Manager Joe Maddon said he doesn't want to rush back the 30-year-old.

"We can't just push him back out there," Maddon said. "We want to get him well and utilize him in the playoffs."

Fuld said he had actually tweaked the hamstring during Friday's win at New York but continued to play through it, believing it would eventually subside, until the fifth inning of Sunday's matchup when he was trying to reach first on a grounder hit to Robinson Cano at second.

"I knew it was kind of going to potentially be an issue," Fuld said. "That's sort of why I was maybe not running 100 percent down the line. I saw Cano bobble that ball and my instincts just told me to turn it up a notch, and my body didn't agree with that."

Fuld said he's never had to deal with a hamstring issue before, which makes him unsure how soon he'll be able to recover. The outfielder did say that he would likely be able to hit before running, but he did not know when that would be.

Fuld has played sparingly this year after missing the first three and a half months because of right wrist surgery. In 39 games, he has a .273 average with five RBIs and seven stolen bases.

Extra bases

• Evan Longoria was out of the lineup on Monday, but Maddon said the third baseman was available to pinch-hit and would likely be back in the lineup for the rest of the series.

• Righty Jeff Niemann, who is dealing with a right rotator cuff strain, said he still hasn't thrown off a mound since suffering the injury Sept. 1. Niemann added that he remains hopeful to return this season, even in a bullpen role.

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