MIAMI -- The important thing to remember here is that Jim Thome is back, so pay no attention to his absence from Monday's lineup. Activated from the disabled list on Saturday, Thome spent the past two games serving as the designated hitter in Baltimore. And with lefty Dontrelle Willis chucking on Monday, Manuel decided to go slow with Thome. "I'm just glad to be back and not watching this team on the TV on my couch," said Thome.
Thome took some ground balls last week while at extended Spring Training, but only played three innings at first base. He took a few more over the weekend and plans to start at first on Tuesday. "For me, that will be the big test, playing a full game, then waking up the next day and seeing how you feel," Thome said. Manuel figures that Thome will benefit from off-days on Thursday and Monday, allowing him to ease back. Then he can start improving on his .195 average. "His timing isn't there, but he's coming," said Manuel. Thome figures he'll be fine, too, once he gets back fully. "The main thing is to have quality at-bats," he said. "It's a feel. When you get that, the rest of that will come." Shuffle up and deal: Manuel switched up the lineup on Monday, moving Jimmy Rollins out of the leadoff spot for the first time in nearly a year. Rollins batted fifth against Willis, with Jason Michaels taking over the leadoff spot. Manuel said the move is a one-game thing. This is the first time Rollins has started a game at a spot other than leadoff since May 29, 2004. He missed a game in Milwaukee and Michaels filled in. Rollins' last start as the No. 5 hitter came on July 9, 2003. "He gets on base," Manuel said of Michaels. "We definitely need somebody to get on base against Willis. And Jimmy has been hitting with guys in scoring position. I also wanted to throw a different look at Dontrelle." Rollins is hitting .314 (11-for-24) with runners in scoring position with 10 RBIs, though Willis has allowed just one unearned run in 14 innings against the Phillies this season. Neither player thought much of the move, as these things just happened over the course of a season. Manuel doesn't want Rollins to change his approach batting fifth. "I don't want him swinging underneath the ball and hitting fly balls to center field," said Manuel. "I want him hitting line drives like he can. Jimmy knows how he hits when he hits good." Then again? "He might be the new Jim Thome," said Manuel, with a smile. Coming up: Brett Myers' May ERA of 2.43 is more than a run higher than his April total. That's all you need to know about how impressive the righty has been this season.
On Tuesday, Myers will oppose fellow young righty Josh Beckett, who is 6-3 with a 2.47 ERA in 2005.
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.