DETROIT — The Rays liked what they saw in RHP Troy Percival's return to the mound Thursday, and if the veteran closer handles his next outing as well, they could be seeing a lot of him in the playoffs.
"It was better," manager Joe Maddon said. "The big thing is to get him back out there (tonight) and see what it looks like two days in a row. But it looked a lot better."
Percival, returning to the mound after a second round of epidural injections in his back, worked a relatively smooth 17-pitch eighth inning marred only by a one-out walk. His fastball looked firm in the 93-94 mph range, and he mixed his pitches, having trouble only with the cutter.
"I was happy with it," Percival said. "I'd like to have thrown more quality strikes than I threw, but at least for the first time in a while I knew I could throw it in the zone when I had to."
Percival returned from his third disabled list stint Sept. 2 and has had some control problems, walking nine in 52/3 innings.
SHORT NIGHT: The Rays were tired and grumpy about having to play at 1:05 Thursday after not arriving at their Dearborn, Mich., hotel from Baltimore until about 3 a.m.
"Just pretty poor planning," Maddon said in advance. "You can't slice it any other way. I'm not going to sit here and agree with what was done. I'm sure it was planned in advance or based on the previous reputation of the (Tampa Bay) organization. That's what I got."
The Tigers play many Thursday games in the afternoon as part of a Seniors Day promotion, though this was just the second to start a series. The other was July 10 against Minnesota, though the Twins had an afternoon game in Boston the previous day.
"The game is lost, and I don't think anyone in here will tell you it's because we had to travel all night," 3B Evan Longoria said. "But it is tough to get a couple hours' sleep and have to come to the park so early."
Maddon, who said he got five hours of sleep and guessed most players got the same or less, gave 2B Akinori Iwamura (who was run over Wednesday by O's C Ramon Hernandez) and DH Cliff Floyd the day off.
ZO-RILLA: INF Ben Zobrist continues to flex his muscles with a pair of home runs, including a 424-foot shot that cleared the centerfield fence at 9-year-old Comerica Park. (In the first eight seasons, only 28 balls had.)
"I know it's not easy," Maddon said. "It normally takes a Titleist (golf ball) and something like a 7-iron to do that."
Zobrist now has 10 homers in 187 at-bats, the only player in the AL, and one of two in the majors (Milwaukee's Russell Branyan), to have that many with fewer than 200 at-bats.
C.C. UPDATE: OF Carl Crawford's hopes to be reinstated remained stalled Thursday by logistics. The doctor who did the surgery on Crawford's right hand hadn't returned a call to Crawford's agent to discuss expediting the timetable.
"I don't know what the holdup is," Crawford said.
The Rays might reinstate Crawford from the DL today so he can be used as a pinch-hitter and defensive replacement.
PARTY TIME: For those who don't attend the postseason rally Monday at St. Petersburg's Straub Park, FSN Florida and Sun Sports will provide live coverage from 5 to 6:30 hosted by Todd Kalas, Joe Magrane and Dewayne Staats.
FREE PLAYOFFS PARKING: The Rays will extend their offer of free parking for cars with at least four passengers through the division series. The regular rate is $10.
MISCELLANY: Longoria hit his 27th homer, most among major-league rookies. … LHP David Price, whose possible postseason role is undecided, is expected to be available in relief tonight. … RHP Edwin Jackson on Wednesday became the first pitcher in more than two years (Oakland's Joe Blanton on July 22, 2006) to get a win after giving up five or more first-inning runs.