NEW YORK -- The Rays activated outfielder Desmond Jennings from the 15-day disabled list on Tuesday, getting back one of their everyday players in time for the opener of a three-game series against the Yankees in the Bronx. To make room for Jennings, Tampa Bay optioned outfielder Rich Thompson to Triple-A Durham.
Jennings went 1-for-4 in Tampa Bay's 7-0 loss, striking out twice, but he was happy to be back.
"It feels good [to be back in the lineup] -- it feels real good," said Jennings, who batted leadoff on Tuesday night. "We get to play some important baseball games, so it feels real good to be back."
Jennings is returning from a left knee sprain that had kept the speedy outfielder off the field since May 12. He went 3-for-15 with a double and a strikeout in four games on a Minor League rehab assignment with Class A Advanced Port Charlotte and Durham.
Jennings smiled, recalling that he reached on an error in his first at-bat at Durham and had to score from first base on a triple before hitting a double in his next at-bat.
"So that was a pretty good test right away," Jennings said.
Jennings said he will not be playing with any kind of restrictions, though he will be wearing a protective brace on his knee for the next couple of weeks.
The brace "is not too bad," Jennings said. "It was kind of cumbersome at first, but I've gotten kind of used to it."
Before the injury, Jennings was batting .265 with a .732 on-base plus slugging percentage and eight stolen bases in 31 games. Slotting Jennings back atop the order will allow manager Joe Maddon to move Carlos Pena, who was moved into the leadoff spot to break out out of a slump, down in the order. With Jennings back in left field every day, Maddon will also have to find ways to get Hideki Matsui in the lineup.
"For me, that's not really an issue at all; when I'm told to go out there and play, then I'll play. That's really it," Matsui said through interpreter Roger Kahlon on Sunday. "Until then, I'm just making sure that I'll be ready to go and prepare for every game."
Thompson, a career Minor Leaguer acquired on May 16 via a trade with the Phillies, recorded his first Major League hit with the Rays on May 17. The 33-year-old outfielder went 1-for-16 with an RBI, two runs scored, two steals and four strikeouts in eight games with Tampa Bay.
The Rays still have eight players on the disabled list, including third baseman Evan Longoria, who is projected to return around mid-June.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.