Nelson Cruz returned from the COVID-19 list, played first base for the first time in his career and hit a tiebreaking two-run double in the eighth inning for the Tampa Bay Rays, who beat the Philadelphia Phillies 3-1 on Tuesday night.
The 41-year-old Cruz, Tampa Bay's designated hitter who had never played first in the majors or the minors, handled all his chances cleanly in his first action anywhere on defense since he played right field for Seattle in 2018. With two on in the first, Didi Gregorius hit a grounder that shortstop Wander Franco threw from the outfield grass, and Cruz made a nifty pick of a short hop to end the inning.
"I haven't had that much fun in a while,'' Cruz said.
Cruz had missed the Rays' victory over the Chicago White Sox on Sunday while on the COVID-19 list but was reinstated before the game, and manager Kevin Cash started him at first to get his bat in the lineup in the NL park. He singled in the first and sixth innings before his big hit in the eighth, a line drive off Archie Bradley (7-2) that got past left fielder Odubel Herrera and scored Brett Phillips and Randy Arozarena.
The Rays placed first baseman Ji-Man Choi on the 10-day IL with a left hamstring strain earlier Tuesday.
Choi left after the first inning Sunday after he doubled and scored on Austin Meadows' single.
Choi, 30, is hitting .250 with nine home runs and 38 RBIs this season.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.