Rays activate Cruz, who plays 1B for first time

Field Level Media

August 25, 2021 at 12:37 am.

Tampa Bay Rays veteran Nelson Cruz was activated from the COVID-19 injured list Tuesday and found himself playing first base for the first time in his career.

With the Rays playing the Philadelphia Phillies in a National League ballpark, the designated hitter wasn’t being used so manager Kevin Cash inserted the 41-year-old Cruz in the lineup at first base and batting second.

“I’ll figure it out. I think, definitely, I’ll be nervous — butterflies the first inning,” Cruz told reporters prior to working at first base during pregame drills. “And after that, I’m just going to enjoy myself. I’m going to have fun doing what I love, playing the game.

“I guess just have to catch the ball. I know how to do that.”

Cruz, who reached the majors in 2005 as an outfielder with the Milwaukee Brewers, has spent the past 16 years in the American League and had not played in the field since 2018, when he played four games in right field for the Seattle Mariners. Of his 1,851 previous games for six teams, 970 had been in the outfield, and the rest as designated or pinch hitter.

He said his experience at first base is limited to playing the position in charity softball games.

While on the COVID-19 list, Cruz missed just one game — Sunday against the Chicago White Sox. He said he didn’t feel well and reportedly had a false positive test Sunday that was followed by two negative tests.

That cleared the way for Cruz to be activated just as the Rays were putting first baseman Ji-Man Choi (strained left hamstring) on the 10-day IL.

Cruz, a seven-time All-Star, is batting .198 with seven homers and 18 RBIs in 24 games since joining Tampa Bay. He began the season with the Minnesota Twins and hit .294 with 19 homers and 50 RBIs in 85 games before being traded to the Rays.

Choi, 30, is batting .250 with nine homers and 38 RBIs in 64 games this season.