PORT CHARLOTTE — SS Hak-Ju Lee spent all summer and fall, and some of the winter, in Port Charlotte rehabbing from surgery to repair torn ligaments in his left knee suffered last April.
“I always think I want to go field, I want to go field, I have to play, I have to play,” Lee said. “That’s what I’m doing now.”
Lee returned to action Friday in the eighth inning of the Rays’ 4-2 loss to the Orioles in the Grapefruit League opener at Charlotte Sports Park. He fielded one ground ball and had one at-bat, flying out to left field to end the game.
It was the fielding that manager Joe Maddon wanted to see. In fact, getting Lee on the field was one objective for Friday.
“He got on the field, came in on a tough play and came in without any hesitation, came after it well, and he battled good there. So he’s not up there thinking about what happened, he’s out there playing baseball,” Maddon said.
Lee, who will return to Triple-A Durham to start the season, could be in line for his first big-league promotion this season.
Lee, who plays with a brace on his knee, said he feels great this spring.
“Knee feeling nothing, 100 percent good,” he said.
Good first impression
RHP Nathan Karns, acquired before the start of spring training from the Nationals for C Jose Lobaton and two prospects, faced three batters Friday in his Rays debut and retired all three, getting two looking at called third strikes.
“Any time you’re out there in spring training the first time, you got the adrenalin flowing, you got fans in the stands, you’re facing guys you don’t know. It’s awesome,” Karns said. “For me, baseball started officially to me (Friday), so it’s exciting.”
It’s even more exciting when your new boss came away impressed with your work. Maddon called Karns’ sinker “nasty.”
“I’ve watched these guys in the bullpen. You hear different things, but to see it from the side, he was getting underneath some of those right-handed hitters pretty hard, and then he complemented that with the curveball. And then he’s got pretty good mound presence,” Maddon said.
LHP Erik Bedard, also making his Rays debut, allowed three first-inning runs on three hits and a pair of walks. He threw 25 pitches, 15 for strikes.
“Well, at least I got my pitch count up,” he joked afterward.
Bedard, vying with RHP Jake Odorizzi for the fifth spot in the rotation, was pleased with his change-up.
When asked if competing for a job adds importance to an outing like Friday, Bedard said, “I think so. It puts a little pressure. In the past, I had very bad springs and decent ones. So you go out there and throw strikes and do the best that you can.”
Versatility in training
INFs Logan Forsythe and Jayson Nix both played Friday. Forsythe started at second base, and Nix replaced Yunel Escobar at shortstop.
Maddon said they will get the bulk of their work in the infield early in the schedule before venturing to the outfield so the team can determine how much versatility each can bring to the 25-man roster.
Maddon said both are being groomed for late-inning defensive purposes.
2B Ben Zobrist (sore lower back) ran the bases Friday morning for the first time since his injury. Maddon said he expects him to play early next week. ... The Rays will use the DH today against the Pirates in Bradenton. ... RF Wil Myers is in today’s starting lineup, the only position player to make back-to-back starts. “The younger guys get beat up a little bit more early (in the spring) as opposed to the veteran guys. That’s just the way it is,” Maddon said.