ST. PETERSBURG -- Alex Rodriguez was activated from the disabled list and inserted into the Yankees' starting lineup for Monday's series opener against the Rays at Tropicana Field, batting cleanup.

"It's exciting; it's definitely exciting," Rodriguez said. "I'm thrilled to be back. You get the game taken away from you for five weeks and you feel like a little kid coming back. I'm just blessed to be back."

Rodriguez, who singled in a three-run fourth inning to tie Babe Ruth for 40th place on the all-time hits list with No. 2,873, hadn't played since having his left hand fractured by a Felix Hernandez pitch on July 24 in Seattle.

The Yankees went 18-18 without Rodriguez, seeing their lead in the American League East shrink from seven games at the time to just two entering play on Monday.

"We're in first place -- that's the bottom line," Rodriguez said. "If you draw it up in Spring Training and say you've got a two-game lead in September, you'd take that 10 out of 10 times. That's why we build a 10-game lead [on July 18]. Hopefully, the bad baseball is behind us and we can start playing some great Yankee baseball."

Yankees manager Joe Girardi said that the lineup could use Rodriguez to provide some right-handed balance, as his absence made them more susceptible to left-handed pitching.

"You hope he makes [the lineup] deeper," Girardi said. "I know he hasn't played in a while; he hasn't played in six weeks, and we're just looking for quality at-bats from him. I can't tell you what exactly is going to happen today, but that's our hope."

Girardi said he might play Rodriguez at third base in one of the games against the Rays. Rodriguez said that he believes the speed of the defensive game might present his greatest challenge.

Rodriguez appeared in two rehab games for Class A Advanced Tampa and went 0-for-7 before taking Sunday off to work on the side in preparation for Monday's afternoon game at Tropicana Field. He said that watching the Yankees play without him was "frustrating."

"Just watching in general is not easy," Rodriguez said, "especially when you've got all your brothers out there playing and you feel like you want to be out there participating and being part of our winning DNA. I'm just glad to be back."

No setbacks for Tex; return against O's targeted

ST. PETERSBURG -- Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira said that his left calf strain is improving and that he hopes to play in the club's upcoming series against the Orioles in Baltimore.

Teixeira said that he would take batting practice on Monday at Tropicana Field and plans to take ground balls and resume running on Tuesday. He took swings in the batting cage on Sunday and said he had no issues.

"It feels more tight now than anything," Teixeira said. "It's not like the pain of the injury. When I hurt it [on Aug. 27], it definitely grabbed and it was sore, but now it's just tight."

Teixeira said that he was told the injury could take 10-15 days to heal, so he is shooting for the lower end of that timeframe.

"What you don't want is any setbacks, so I'm being aggressive but smart," Teixeira said.

Girardi expects Granderson to start on Tuesday

ST. PETERSBURG -- Yankees outfielder Curtis Granderson could return to the club's starting lineup on Tuesday, manager Joe Girardi said before Monday's 4-3 loss to the Rays, which ended when Granderson struck out swinging as a pinch-hitter.

Granderson is battling mild tendinitis in his right hamstring but went through batting practice on Monday at Tropicana Field, shagging balls in the outfield before the contest.

"He's doing better," Girardi said. "He's going to take BP today, and we'll see if he's available maybe later on today. If not, I really believe he'll be in there tomorrow."

Bombers bits

• Yankees left-hander Andy Pettitte (fractured left fibula) is expected to face hitters on Wednesday, Girardi said, and right-hander Ivan Nova (right shoulder inflammation) is expected to do the same on Tuesday or Wednesday.

• Yankees general manager Brian Cashman has joined the club for the trip to St. Petersburg.

• Girardi again defended catcher Russell Martin's offense before Monday's game. Martin entered play batting .195 with 14 home runs and 36 RBIs in 109 games.

"I think he's hit the ball a lot harder than what the numbers indicate," Girardi said. "I think he's fallen victim to a lot of bad luck. I don't know if people who see him every day agree with me, but every day we say, 'There's another lineout for Russell.' It's been unbelievable."

• The Yankees have released outfielder Kosuke Fukudome, who signed with New York on July 13 and hit .264 with two home runs, 16 RBIs and a .429 on-base percentage in 43 games with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

• On this date in 1995, Tony Fernandez became the 10th Yankees player to hit for the cycle, doing so in a 10-9 loss to the Athletics. Melky Cabrera became the 11th and most recent to do so on Aug. 2, 2009, against the White Sox in Chicago.