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Rays going with closer-by-committee approach

Grant Balfour has four saves, but Joe Maddon said he is not committing to one closer while Troy Percival is out. “I have confidence that there’s different people who can get the last out, so we’re not going to ordain one closer,” Maddon said.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Grant Balfour has four saves, but Joe Maddon said he is not committing to one closer while Troy Percival is out. “I have confidence that there’s different people who can get the last out, so we’re not going to ordain one closer,” Maddon said.

ARLINGTON, Texas — With closer Troy Percival sidelined the next two to four weeks, the Rays said Friday that they have more than one man for the job of replacing him.

Although Grant Balfour seems to have emerged as the logical successor, manager Joe Maddon was somewhat emphatic the Rays will return to the group-effort approach they used during Percival's two previous stints on the disabled list.

RHP Juan Salas was recalled from Triple-A Durham to join the bullpen. Maddon said RHPs Balfour, Dan Wheeler and Chad Bradford and LHP J.P. Howell could all be used to finish games.

"We'll finish games like we did before," Maddon said. "I have confidence that there's different people who can get the last out, so we're not going to ordain one closer."

Maddon said he will decide nightly based primarily on matchups and availability. During Percival's prior absences, Balfour and Wheeler each saved four games. Howell has two, and Trever Miller got his first Thursday.

"It's just going to be as we go along," Maddon said. "We've done it before, and we're going to do it the same way again."

Balfour, charged with his first blown save Thursday after replacing Percival, has struck out the higher percentage of batters (39 percent) than any pitcher in the majors, leads the AL by averaging 13.75 strikeouts per nine innings and tops all major-league relievers with a .122 opponents average. Only five of the 15 hits he has allowed have gone for extra bases (one home run).

Percival said Balfour has "better stuff than I do," and Balfour said he was ready for the physical and mental challenges of closing games.

"It's (something) I would definitely love to do," Balfour said. "If it means Joe wants me to do that, then that's what I'd do. Whatever it takes for the team to win is what we're going to do."

Salas delayed: Salas was most known this spring for not showing up, his arrival from the Dominican Republic delayed until April 17 due to visa problems thought to stem from his 2007 suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs.

So, naturally, he was late arriving at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on Friday.

It wasn't his doing, however, because his flight from Durham, N.C., was delayed, but he arrived before the start of the game.

Salas was 4-5 with a 2.62 ERA in 28 games for the Bulls with 53 strikeouts (and 11 walks) in 442/3 innings. He likely will be used midgame and for multiple innings at a time but not in consecutive games.

Draft breeze: The Rays went over the MLB-suggested limit to sign second-round draft pick LHP Kyle Lobstein for $1.5-million, and they couldn't have been happier about it.

"We have liked Kyle for a couple of years," scouting director R.J. Harrison said. "He has one of the top delivery and arm actions I have ever scouted. He has a great frame (6 feet 3, 200 pounds) — tall, broad shoulders, long arms, big hands. All the things we like in a young pitching prospect. Very good mound presence and good stuff."

Lobstein, who had a college scholarship offer from Arizona, will report to rookie-league Princeton (W.Va.) on Sunday.

Overall, the Rays signed 26 of their top 28 picks.

Moving parts: Jason Bartlett returned to the lineup at shortstop for the first time since Aug. 3, when he was hit by a pitch and sustained a bruised right index finger. Ben Zobrist will be in more of a super-utility role and could start in the outfield against a lefty, with Rocco Baldelli as DH, and likely will get a game at second so Akinori Iwamura can get a day off.

Miscellany: Maddon earned his 201st win. Larry Rothschild leads with 205. … The Rays hit four homers in a game, and three in an inning (by Carlos Pena, Eric Hinske and Gabe Gross) for the third time.

Rays going with closer-by-committee approach 08/15/08 [Last modified: Saturday, August 16, 2008 8:12pm]
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