DETROIT -- Yunel Escobar headed back to the Tampa Bay area on Saturday to prepare for his return to the Rays' lineup.
Escobar, who was in the clubhouse briefly before Saturday afternoon's game against the Tigers, has not played in a game since June 24, when he left the Rays 6-5 loss to the Pirates because of a sore shoulder.
Escobar is slated to play shortstop in a Gulf Coast League game on Monday, then he will DH for Single-A Charlotte on Tuesday before returning to shortstop on Wednesday.
"He threw with [head athletic trainer] Ronnie [Porterfield] today, did a nice job," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "Ronnie said he threw from a good distance without any hesitation. I met with [Escobar] briefly, and he's really, really eager to get back."
Escobar went on the disabled list on June 30, which is retroactive to June 25, meaning the Rays shortstop can come off the DL on July 8. Maddon noted that getting him back should provide a nice boost to the team.
"Absolutely," Maddon said. "He's going to be fresh. Very fresh. And it gives [Ben Zobrist] a chance to play [some shortstop], which is going to make him better if we need him at another point.
"And while this has been going on, other guys have been getting opportunities and they've responded well. Again, keeping their sword sharp also. A lot of good things can happen. You hate losing people, but when other guys step in and play well, it can make you stronger."
In Escobar's absence Zobrist has made most of the starts at shortstop.
"[Zobrist has] done fine," Maddon said. "He's done really well. But every time we put him there he does really well. We've talked about it before, when we first got him that 's what he was. And I think at the end of the day he kind of likes seeing the game from that particular spot."
Escobar is hitting .244 with four home runs and 22 RBIs in 77 games for the Rays this season.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less