ST. PETERSBURG, Florida--Hideki Matsui thinks he can still perform at a high level and help the Tampa Bay Rays.
"I really don't have any doubts,'' the two-time AL All-Star said May 1 during a news conference at Tropicana Field that two television stations broadcast live back to Japan.
"Fortunately I've been given an opportunity to wear a major league uniform again,'' Matsui added through an interpreter. "I'm very thankful for the Rays. My focus is to work and get up to the majors as soon as possible.''
The former Japan Central League star who has played nine seasons in the major leagues with the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Angels and Oakland Athletics signed a minor league contract with the Rays. He will report to extended spring training in Port Charlotte on May 2, and the team reiterated May 1 there's not a definitive timetable for getting him ready to play.
Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said Matsui will head to Triple-A Durham when the club and the slugger feel he's in good enough shape to take the next step toward a return to the majors.
The 37-year-old outfielder/designated hitter batted .251 with 12 homers and 72 RBIs in 141 games with the A's in 2011. He spent part of the offseason living and working out in New York, waiting for a team to make a serious offer.
Friedman said the Rays have had interest in Matsui each of the past two winters. Although Luke Scott is the team's primarily left-hander designated hitter, Matsui would provide depth at DH and in left field.
"He's someone who's always been on our radar,'' Friedman said.
Matsui, who turns 38 next month, played seven seasons with the Yankees before spending 2010 with the Angels and moving to the A's last year.
In addition to being a nine-time All-Star in Japan, he played for three Japan Series champions before signing with the Yankees. He was an AL All-Star in 2003 and 2004 and helped New York win the World Series in 2009.
Matsui said some potential suitors may have shied away from him because his production slipped with the A's, adding that his age could have been a factor.
Friedman said there isn't a clause in Matsui's contract that would allow the player to opt out of the deal if he isn't called up to the majors by a certain date.
"There's nothing formal in place, but we're going to treat Hideki with the respect he deserves,'' the Rays executive added.
Matsui, who has a .285 average with 173 homers and 753 RBIs in the majors, wouldn't speculate on how soon he could be back at Tropicana Field.
"My focus is to just get ready as soon as possible, hopefully join the team and help any way I can,'' Matsui said. "Hopefully it shouldn't take too long.''
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