ST. PETERSBURG — When RHP Grant Balfour was one of the last cuts in spring training, the Aussie reliever thought he had pitched well enough to stick.
But after his recent remarkable stretch at Triple-A Durham, Balfour now has the Rays brass buying in.
Balfour, called up Thursday to bolster a bullpen without closer Troy Percival (15-day disabled list, left hamstring strain), has gone 8-for-8 in save chances for the Bulls, giving up just five hits in 232/3 innings for a 0.38 ERA.
"Pitching is all about confidence," Balfour said. "Once you throw up a zero, the next thing you know, you throw another one; it's like a hitter getting hot. I feel like I tried to roll with it as long as I could."
Manager Joe Maddon said he could see Balfour in a number of roles; he can serve in one- or multiple-inning stints, and has "closer kind of stuff."
The Rays acquired Balfour in July from the Brewers in the Seth McClung deal. The 30-year-old appeared in 22 games for the Rays last season while posting a 6.14 ERA. Maddon said the biggest difference in Balfour has been his ability to throw strikes. He struck out 39 and walked 10 in 15 games with the Bulls.
"Physically, we saw it in the past — excellent fastball, really good breaking stuff," Maddon said. "If he can locate with his pitches, he can be very successful with it."
HAMMEL TIME: Maddon praised RHP Jason Hammel for how he has adjusted to the long-relief role — and his long waits between outings. Hammel appeared Thursday for the first time since May 21, giving up just one run in three innings. Hammel, who began the season in the rotation, had gone 11 days between outings before picking up a win May 19 in Oakland.
"I've been dying to get in there," Hammel said. "I want to pitch more, but the role entails long, long times in-between innings at times. I just have to be ready."
Hammel said he has developed a better routine between outings, keeping his arm ready with bullpen sessions and drills.
"You're always concerned about just throwing him out there to stay sharp, and then need him the next night for three or four innings," Maddon said. "It's a tough role to be in, but he's handling it really well."
BALDELLI AT-BATS: OF Rocco Baldelli is scheduled to serve as DH in an extended spring game today. Baldelli, on the DL since spring training due to a rare condition that causes muscle fatigue in his legs, will get five at-bats, like he did Thursday, when he went 1-for-5 against the Phillies.
SELLOUT: The Rays announced tonight's game, which will include a postgame concert by country star Trace Adkins, is sold out with the exception of a limited number of single and obstructed-view seats. It will be the team's third sellout of the season.
MISCELLANY: 3B Evan Longoria took some ground balls at shortstop during practice Friday; Maddon said the rookie will serve as Jason Bartlett's backup… RHP Scott Munter was released from Triple-A Durham. … Carlos Pena is 0-for-15 with nine strikeouts and 15 runners left on base in the past four games. … To promote seat belt usage, Florida Department of Transportation officers will reward random fans with a pair of free tickets to an upcoming game if they are wearing their seat belt when they drive into the parking lot (lots 6 and 7) at the Trop today.
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]om.