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Not-so-sharp closer Troy Percival gets job done for Tampa Bay Rays

BOSTON — RHP Troy Percival really didn't care how it looked.

The Rays closer felt good after making his first appearance of the season, coming off an injury-shortened 2008 and extensive December back surgery.

And he felt even better about getting the job done, preserving the 4-3 victory despite allowing a ninth-inning leadoff homer to Jason Varitek, a couple of hard-hit outs and a two-out walk to David Ortiz before ending the game with Kevin Youkilis' fly out to deep center.

"I just wanted to come off that field with a win," Percival said. "I knew I was fully capable and fine, and actually the velocity (about 92 mph) was better than I thought it would be for the first time out."

Manager Joe Maddon — who has insisted that when healthy Percival, who logged his 353rd career save, will resume his closer's role — said he was pleased overall that Percival looked healthy and showed good velocity but ceded his command wasn't sharp.

"Listen, it doesn't always have to be an oil painting to be successful," Maddon said. "It wasn't an oil painting today, but he got 'er done. He's going to have those days, and we were successful, so don't denigrate it. It was a good thing."

"And Joe knows there's a lot of mine that aren't pretty," Percival said. "When it comes right down to it, I have to pick and choose my battles."

Struggling in the cool dry air to get a grip for his breaking balls, Percival said he was limited primarily to fastballs and changeups. That's why he pitched cautiously to Ortiz, and didn't mind walking him, and said he wasn't going to give Youkilis much, either.

"You're facing the heart of the Boston Red Sox lineup with the wind blowing out, you're going to have to make really good pitches."

Two of a kind: One reason RHP Matt Garza works so well with backup C Shawn Riggans (2.38 ERA, but 4.15 with Dioner Navarro) is the low target Riggans sets, forcing him to keep the ball down.

Another is that they think alike, Maddon said. "There's some kind of mental vibe going back and forth there that's kind of scary in a sense," he said. "I don't know if I was Garza I'd be concerned or if I was Riggans I'd be concerned."

"We're both not the sharpest tools in the shed, so it works out well," Riggans said. "Two minds are definitely better than one."

Said Garza: "Maybe we're just on the same page. Whatever works."

Maddon likes the pairings and wants to give Navarro regular rest but said he is "not necessarily" going to make Riggans and Garza a regular couple.

Changed man: RHP Andy Sonnanstine makes his first start of the season tonight with a new weapon, having gained enough confidence in his changeup during the spring to talk with the catchers about using it when it counts.

"It's going to take a couple times out to get used to it and show how much and when I should use it," he said.

For openers: Parking lots will open at 2 p.m. and Tropicana Field gates at 4 p.m. for Monday's sold-out home opener, with players greeting the early arriving fans in the rotunda entrance. … In addition to Monday's banner raising and Tuesday's ring ceremony, the Rays said 1B Carlos Peña will get his Gold Glove Award Wednesday and Maddon his AL manager of the year award April 19, with presentation of 3B Evan Longoria's AL rookie of the year to be scheduled.

Miscellany: The Rays won their season-opening series for the first time since 2002, when they swept Detroit. … After an 0-for-7 start, Pat Burrell got his first hit as a Ray, a pinch-hit single in the ninth. … Matt Joyce hit his first Rays homer. … LHP Brian Shouse made his Rays debut. … Rain is forecast for Baltimore tonight and Saturday. … LHP David Price is scheduled to start tonight for Triple-A Durham. … LHP Scott Kazmir's five wins at Fenway Park since 2004 are the most by a visiting pitcher over that span.

Not-so-sharp closer Troy Percival gets job done for Tampa Bay Rays 04/09/09 [Last modified: Friday, April 10, 2009 6:45am]
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