Rays' depleted infield has Bartlett back

Bartlett returns to lineup on Friday

ST. PETERSBURG -- Despite a brief scare in Thursday night's game, Jason Bartlett was back in Friday's series opener vs. the Astros, as the Rays starting shortstop assumed his regular spot in the No. 9 hole.

Bartlett was a late scratch in the series finale against the Cubs after taking a ball off of his left foot in batting practice. He was ruled to have a contusion on his foot and was replaced by Evan Longoria, who slid over from his regular role at third base.

Manager Joe Maddon said the Rays considered putting Bartlett into the game on Thursday night, but opted to err on the side of caution.

Prior to Friday's game, the shortstop seemed to be close to 100 percent, as Bartlett noted the swelling had gone down considerably, and the trainers had worked on him Thursday night and Friday afternoon.

As for the 28-year-old's impressions of his last-second understudy?

"He looked alright," Bartlett said of Longoria. "I think his heart was pounding a little fast, but I think he had fun out there."

Longoria said it was "weird" to be away from his usual hot corner, and said he initially had to go over some different signs with Akinori Iwamura at second base.

The rookie estimated he played about 20 games at shortstop for Long Beach State (Calif.) and although it is hardly an ideal situation, Longoria said it wouldn't be "a big deal" to get another start or two at short.

That scenario is expected to arise any day, as Bartlett's pregnant wife, Kelly, is approaching her due date. The couple will opt to induce labor on June 25, if the baby is not born before then.

"I'm hoping he stays in there until Wednesday, that's the plan," Bartlett said.

The Rays are trying to avoid a scenario where they are without Bartlett -- who Maddon said would miss about two games following the birth -- and Iwamura.

The second baseman is currently appealing a three-game suspension doled out for his involvement in an on-field melee against the Red Sox on June 5.

"Had the suspension started, we would have been in a pretty good bind last night," Maddon said.

The Rays skipper added that missing both of the club's middle infielders was a "major concern" in the decision to appeal Iwamura's punishment.

The likely scenario without Bartlett would be what transpired on Thursday night. Longoria would move to shortstop, Willy Aybar would shift from first to third and Eric Hinske would take over for Aybar. Without Hinske in right field, Gabe Gross would be the top candidate to start in the outfield, although it could also be Justin Ruggiano or Jonny Gomes if the Rays are facing a lefty.

Iwamura -- who is expected to get an appeal date sometime early next week -- is also backed up by Aybar. With the club's Opening Day first baseman, Carlos Pena, still out with a fractured left index finger, the Rays are trying to avoid being exposed in the infield.

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