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Matsui gets right to work for Rays

Matsui gets right to work for Rays

Matsui gets right to work for Rays
ST. PETERSBURG -- A clatter of camera shutters followed Hideki Matsui when he first stepped from the Rays dugout Tuesday afternoon to face a horde of media.

The veteran slugger smiled at the attention then proceeded to answer questions about joining the Rays after being selected from Triple-A Durham on Tuesday afternoon.

"I'm happy that I received a callup and I'm going to work hard to help the team," said Matsui using an interpreter.

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Matsui was in left field and hit sixth for the Rays against the White Sox on Tuesday night. He went 1-for-4 with a two-run homer in the Rays' 7-2 loss.

To make room for him on the roster, the Rays optioned outfielder/designated hitter Stephen Vogt to Durham and transferred outfielder Brandon Guyer from the 15-day disabled list to the 60-day disabled list.

Matsui, who turns 38 on June 12, played 13 games with Durham after signing a Minor league contract with the Rays on April 30 and spending two weeks in extended spring training. At Durham, he hit .170 with two doubles, four walks and four RBIs. He spent time at DH and left field.

Andrew Friedman, Rays executive vice president of baseball operations, was not concerned about Matsui's numbers at Durham.

"It's just like with any veteran player," Friedman said. "We're not necessarily looking at the stats of how they do, just like during Spring Training we don't care if a guy hits a buck fifty or .500. The most important part is that they feel good and they've got their timing down. He's now at that point."

So why did the Rays decide that Tuesday would be the appropriate time to bring him up?

"It was a combination [of things]," Friedman said. "I think the biggest thing with Hideki is he knows himself better than we do. With a lot of our veteran players in Spring Training, they have a really good feel for when they're ready and when they're not, from a timing standpoint. So we were in communication with him about how he felt.

"And also yesterday we knew he wouldn't play with [White Sox starter Chris] Sale on the mound. So that gave him one more day of at-bats. Typically, I think he likes to get between 50 and 60 at-bats during Spring Training. And essentially, his Minor League stint was his Spring Training."

The Rays left the decision of when Matsui would be ready to play up to Matsui. The veteran slugger was asked what told him he was ready.

"I've just been able to play in games and get at-bats, so it wasn't like one thing that turned the decision, it was more of a cumulative thing," Matsui said.

Matsui, who has always worn No. 55, will wear No. 35 for the Rays; Matt Moore wears No. 55.

"It was a number that was available," said Matsui clearly unconcerned. "It was nice to be able to keep one five out of two."

Matsui's arrival was met with overwhelming approval in the Rays clubhouse.

"[Having Matsui on the team] makes the club better," Luke Scott said. "Any time you can provide left-handed power and experience, you know it makes the team better offensively.

"[He brings] left-handed power, on-base percentage, knowledge of the game, knowledge of the strike zone, and the ability to put the ball out of the ballpark, drive the ball to the gaps, drive in runs."

J.P. Howell has faced Matsui throughout his Major League career and noted, "He definitely can hit mistakes."

"He rarely misses those," Howell said. "He's going to give you a professional at-bat, which is contagious throughout the lineup. So for me, it's a great addition."

Matsui also brings another element to the club: the Japanese media. Tuesday, there were approximately 40 extra members of the media on hand. In addition, the NHK network in Japan will be picking up many Rays games in order to showcase the team's newest player, in essence adding another country to the franchise's fan base.

"It's pretty cool," B.J. Upton said. "I think we all know it's a pretty small market and our fan base isn't that big. You've started to see it grow a lot since '08. I'm pretty sure you're going to see it grow significantly with him being on our team now."

Matsui is the fourth Japanese player signed by the Rays, joining infielder Akinori Iwamura (who played for the Rays from 2007-09), right-handed pitcher Hideo Nomo (2005) and right-handed pitcher Shinji Mori (signed in 2006 but did not play in the Majors).

Matsui has played nine seasons in the Major Leagues with the New York Yankees (2003-09), Los Angeles Angels (2010) and Oakland Athletics (2011) following a 10-year career with the Yomiuri Giants of Japan's Central League. He owns an MLB career .285 batting average with 173 home runs, 753 RBIs and 248 doubles in 1,202 games, after hitting .304 with 332 home runs, 889 RBIs and 245 doubles in 1,268 games in Japan.

Matsui was a nine-time All-Star in Japan (1994-2002) and a two-time American League All-Star (2003-04). While 25 players have reached 500 home runs in the Major Leagues and eight have done so in Japan, Matsui is the first to combine for 500 home runs in both leagues. He slugged No. 500 on July 20, 2011, at Detroit.

The three-time Central League Most Valuable Player (1996, 2000, '02) played for three Japan Series champions with Yomiuri (1998, 2000, '02) and one World Series champion with the Yankees in 2009, when he was named World Series MVP.

Matsui has the most home runs, RBIs and walks (539) of any Japanese player in Major League history. He did not miss a game in his first three seasons with the Yankees, putting together a streak of 518 games played to set the record for longest streak of consecutive games to start a Major League career. Prior to that stretch, he played in 1,250 consecutive games with Yomiuri for a total streak of 1,768 straight games as a professional.

Matsui played in 141 games for Oakland last season, batting .251 with 12 home runs and 72 RBIs. He started 108 games at designated hitter and 27 games in left field. In 61 career games at Tropicana Field, he has hit .297 with 10 home runs and 43 RBIs.

"Everybody that's been around him speaks of what a tremendous professional he is, a very classy kind of a guy," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "That kind of describes our players in general, so I think he's gonna fit in really well."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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