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Rays closer Percival excels with less power, more savvy

TORONTO — Since coming out of retirement in June, RHP Troy Percival has kept things extremely simple.

And as a result he has been remarkably successful.

Between his 11 games for the Rays this season and 34 for the Cardinals last season, Percival has been among the most successful relievers in the game, and close to untouchable.

His 1.41 ERA is the third best of all relievers with 50 or more innings; only J.C. Romero (1.08 going into Wednesday) and Joe Nathan (1.18) were better.

And Percival's .149 opponents' batting average is the lowest. Of his 45 appearances, 39 have been scoreless and 27 hitless. In his 11 zero-tolerance appearances for the Rays, Percival has allowed just three baserunners — two hits and a walk — and had nine perfect innings. He has used more than 16 pitches only once and 10 or fewer three times.

"Right now, if I can get out of there with three pitches, I'm the happiest guy alive," Percival, 38, said. "I'd had my fair share of strikeouts. I don't go out there intending to strike people out unless the situation calls for it. …

"But right now I try to think to myself, what pitch will get this guy out right now."

Whereas the old young Percival was overpowering, the new old Percival is crafty, moving the ball around, mixing in breaking balls.

"He's pitching," manager Joe Maddon said. "The difference between then and now is that he's more of a pitcher."

ON THE MARK: Maddon said he could tell LHP Scott Kazmir's between-starts bullpen session on Wednesday went well based on the way pitching coach Jim Hickey reacted.

"Tremendous. Excellent. Hick was really pleased with it. He came in raving, actually. He was very excited," Maddon said. "He said his command was spectacular. When your command is good that means your arm is feeling pretty good, so he was very happy about that."

Kazmir, whose season debut Sunday was marred by poor mechanics, is scheduled to start Saturday against Joe Saunders, the first of the Angels' pair of 6-0 aces. Ervin Santana pitches Sunday against Andy Sonnanstine.

REHAB REPORT: DH Cliff Floyd (right knee surgery) played a third straight day in extended spring training, going 1-for-4, and Maddon expects to have a better idea Friday how soon he will be activated.

When Floyd comes back, he will be used exclusively at DH, meaning Eric Hinske is headed to rightfield. Maddon said he was okay with getting Floyd back before the May 16-18 interleague series at St. Louis and would use him as a pinch-hitter.

INF Ben Zobrist (fractured left thumb) played the first of four rehab games for Class A Vero and was 1-for-4 as the DH; he also is expected to be activated next week. INF Willy Aybar (left hamstring strain) also played in the extended spring game.

RHP Al Reyes is scheduled for a bullpen session today and RHP Gary Glover on Saturday; both could be back soon after.

Top draft pick LHP David Price, rehabbing an elbow strain, pitched three innings in extended spring, allowing two hits while striking out four. When healthy he is expected to join Vero.

GARZA OKAY: Matt Garza wasn't pleased about throwing 47 balls among his 106 pitches but said "I got the outs when I had to.'' Overall, he said he was "making progress.''

MISCELLANY: The Rays had won five straight over the Jays. … Hinske leads the AL with a .602 slugging percentage. … The Rays will auction several "experiences" during Monday's broadcast, including pitching sessions with Kazmir and batting lessons by Floyd. … The Jays had gone 20 consecutive games without scoring more than five runs, the longest such streak in the American League since the 2002 Tigers went 24.

Rays closer Percival excels with less power, more savvy 05/07/08 [Last modified: Thursday, May 8, 2008 1:59pm]

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