ST. PETERSBURG -- Though they only played for the Rays for one season, Tropicana Field feels like home for Casey Kotchman and Johnny Damon.
The two return as members of the Indians, and hit eighth and ninth, respectively, on Monday against Tampa Bay.
"I had a heckuva time playing with my great teammates last year, love them all," Kotchman, a native of St. Petersburg, said. "What we were able to do was historic and great to be a part of."
Damon, who grew up in Orlando, also said that his time with the Rays was special, albeit short-lived. When he does retire, though, he said he plans to make the trip to Tropicana Field to watch the Rays play.
Both players said that because of family, friends and community connections, it was difficult to leave the Rays, but reaffirmed that they're happy with the Indians.
Damon, who hit .261 in 2011 with the Rays, said he originally expected to be back this season, but saw the chances slim when Tampa Bay signed Luke Scott.
"With everything that was said on the final days and during the offseason, hanging out with the players, I think everybody expected me to be back," Damon said.
"You have to change uniforms sometimes. Sometimes it's your choice, sometimes it's not. You always have to make the best out of every situation," he added.
Rhymes comfortable batting leadoff
ST. PETERSBURG -- After a 2-for-5 game on Sunday against the Red Sox, infielder Will Rhymes provided a boost for a Rays lineup that has been searching for hits.
Rhymes started at second base in the club's series opener against the Indians on Monday and hit leadoff, a spot he said he's comfortable being in.
"Pretty much all my time in the Minors I've hit leadoff; in the big leagues, in Detroit, I hit second," Rhymes said. "I've hit there a lot, I don't try to do anything different."
In addition to his solid day at the plate, Rhymes also made a stellar play in the field on Sunday, when he flipped the ball to shortstop Elliot Johnson and turned a double play in the fourth inning.
"I was really just trying to make sure it stayed in the infield and just kind of knock it down," Rhymes said. "When I caught it, my hand was kind of behind me. It was the only way to really get it to him, you know."
Rhymes, who is batting .239 on the season entering Monday, has started games sparingly, mostly seeing time as a pinch-hitter or defensive substitute. He said he tries to be ready whenever manager Joe Maddon puts him into the game.
"I'm basically just trying to give maximum effort and keep myself prepared every day even if I'm not in the lineup, just try to mentally prepare as if I were playing," Rhymes said. "When you're playing, you just try to get the same routine."
Joyce starts rehab stint, could return soon
ST. PETERSBURG -- Rays outfielder Matt Joyce performed well in his first rehab start on Sunday as he continues to work toward returning to the team.
The outfielder led off for Class A Charlotte and went 1-for-3 with an RBI double, and also walked and scored a run.
Joyce, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list because of a left external oblique strain, is scheduled to play Monday and Tuesday before being reevaluated by the club.
"He's doing well," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "He's making good progress. Hopefully we're gonna see him in the next couple days here."
Joyce could be back as soon as Wednesday when the Rays play the third game of a four-game series against the Indians. Maddon would not elaborate on a corresponding roster move to make room for Joyce, only saying that it has been discussed.
Maddon also said injured third baseman Evan Longoria may travel with the team during its next road trip, which begins in Baltimore on July 24, to monitor him, though there is still no timetable for his return.
"We want to keep him close at hand and watch him work and just try to see if we can keep improving upon it," Maddon said.
Longoria was batting .329 on the season before a partially torn left hamstring sidelined him on April 30. Tampa Bay is 31-35 in his absence.
Greg Zeck is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.