ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — His wait has been long, but Juan Carlos Oviedo is thankful he has a place in a game he calls his livelihood.
"I feel good, thank God," Oviedo said through translator George Pappas on Tuesday at Tropicana Field. "My arm feels good. It’s good to be back here to get out of Triple-A and get in here and get ready to go."
On Monday, the Tampa Bay Rays activated the right-hander from the 15-day disabled list and optioned left-hander C.J. Riefenhauser to Triple-A Durham prior to Tuesday’s series opener against the Minnesota Twins. The native of Jamao al Norte, Dominican Republic, last pitched in a major-league game with the Florida Marlins on Sept. 21, 2011, against the Atlanta Braves.
He faced a number of delays in his journey: Suspension for identity fraud (he was formerly known as Leo Nunez), injury of his elbow during a minor-league rehab assignment and Tommy John surgery in September 2012. He also faced visa issues in his return to Port Charlotte, Fla., for spring training, and he didn’t arrive to camp until March 15.
Due to his late spring arrival, the Rays determined he wasn’t ready for Opening Day. He made seven rehab appearances with Triple-A Durham, where he allowed one run, three hits and had 10 strikeouts in seven innings.
Oviedo, who has pitched parts of seven years in the majors, has a career 4.34 ERA with 92 saves.
"(Oviedo) had been throwing well in Triple-A," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "We’ve been undergoing some extensive rehab for over a year now. But we believe he’s going to be a very influential part of the back end of our bullpen."
Oviedo figures to find an instant connection with Rays reliever Joel Peralta, also from the Dominican Republic. Their lockers were located next to each another in the clubhouse, and the sight of returning to a major-league clubhouse was welcomed for a player who had endured a long path.
"We had a few issues with the name (problem) and then with having had Tommy John surgery," Oviedo said through Pappas. "So yeah, it has been awhile. But I’m really happy. And thank God that I’m still able to do this."
MOORE HAS SUCCESSFUL SURGERY
The Rays said left-hander Matt Moore had successful Tommy John surgery Tuesday in Pensacola, Fla., to replace a partially torn ulnar-collateral ligament in his left elbow. Noted specialist Dr. James Andrews performed the operation.
Moore, who has a 0-2 record with a 2.70 ERA in two starts this season, left an appearance against the Kansas City Royals on April 7 at Kauffman Stadium after 4 1/3 innings with the sore elbow. He was placed on the 15-day disabled list April 8, and he opted for surgery the following week after a short throwing session in Baltimore.
Moore is expected to miss about a year.
JENNINGS RETURNS TO LINEUP
Outfielder Desmond Jennings returned to the lineup Tuesday after his short absence because of a sore groin.
He batted second and played in center field, after missing games April 19 and 20 against the New York Yankees at Tropicana Field because of the condition. He was limited to one pinch-hit appearance April 18 against the Yankees. The injury happened while diving in the outfield during the first inning of a loss at Baltimore on April 14.
Maddon said Jennings isn’t completely healed, but the team will monitor the situation.
"Probably not 100 percent," Maddon said of Jennings’ health.
"But he’s close to it. And it’s going to be pretty much up to him what he feels like he can do on the bases."
MADDON MOVES DEJESUS DOWN
Maddon slotted David DeJesus as the Rays’ seventh batter Tuesday with the outfielder stuck in a 0-for-24 slump.
DeJesus’ slide started April 8 at Kansas City. Entering Tuesday, his batting average had dropped to .119 with a .196 on-base percentage. He has gone hitless in all but three of his 14 games this season.
"For him, I really believe he’s off just a little bit right now," Maddon said. "We want to give him a little bit of breathing room right there."
"SUPER" SAM RETURNS
Tuesday’s game included an old, familiar face. Former Rays utility player Sam Fuld made his return to Tropicana Field with the Twins on a whirlwind day for him.
He returned on the same afternoon he made his debut with Minnesota, which claimed him off waivers Sunday. He needed some willpower to avoid entering the home clubhouse door.
"I didn’t know what to do," Fuld said. "I had to fight myself from turning left."
Fuld appeared in 268 games with the Rays from 2011 to 2013. Tampa Bay non-tendered Fuld last December, and he signed with the Oakland Athletics on a minor-league deal in February. He played in seven games with the Athletics and hit .200 with four RBI before he was designated for assignment on April 12.
"It’s a really odd process," Fuld said of being DFA’d. "I wish it wouldn’t have taken that long. From a mental perspective, it was tough. Also physically, it’s a little tricky just trying to stay in shape."
Fuld said he had plenty of good memories with Tampa Bay: Experiencing his first Opening Day at Tropicana Field, playing in Game 162 in 2011, making the American League playoffs as a wild-card team last season. He left with a positive experience, though his Rays tenure is behind him.
"I was obviously disappointed when I was non-tendered but also really strongly considered coming back," Fuld said. "It was a difficult decision. I have nothing but great memories here."