ST. PETERSBURG -- Outfielder Gabe Kapler played the first game during his rehab assignment on Friday in Port Charlotte, Fla. -- going 0-for-2 with a walk.
Kapler, on the 15-day disabled list with a right hip flexor strain, will finish out his four-day assignment before returning to the Rays next week, most likely in time for the team's two-game series in Boston on Tuesday and Wednesday. He played right field on Friday and was the designated hitter for Saturday's game with the Stone Crabs.
"Kap had a good night," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "He felt good."
Maddon defended Kapler against criticism for his less-than-impressive statistics this season. The right-handed hitting Kapler is known for his ability to hit left-handed pitching, but he is batting just .215 against lefties this season and .217 overall. Kapler went through similar struggles at the beginning of last season, Maddon noted, but he bounced back around this time last year.
"Regardless of what people say, this guy over the last couple years has been one of the top right-handed hitters against left-handed pitchers in baseball. And right now, he's been struggling a bit," Maddon said. "But as long as he tells me he's healthy, I'm going to believe that's going to come back to him.
"A guy like Kap, for me, you've just got to keep putting him out there until it starts coming back to him. What I look at, it's that the guy's not too old, he's not out of shape, there's nothing debilitating. He's had a little bit of a setback right now, but there's nothing that indicates to me that he doesn't have a chance to do what he did last year. Sometimes you've got to be patient, you've got to show faith in certain people and you'll get rewarded."