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Rays' Percival returns to closing, grooming

ST. PETERSBURG — Veteran closer Troy Percival was reinstated Sunday morning from the disabled list and said his left hamstring finally feels normal and "10 times better" than it did when he came off the DL the first time.

Percival takes the roster spot of RHP Gary Glover, who was placed on the 15-day DL with a left calf strain (retroactive to July 11), an injury sustained in his last outing in Cleveland.

Percival had been on the DL since July 2, with the Rays going 6-for-6 in save situations in his absence. Manager Joe Maddon wasted little time in getting the 38-year-old reliever back into regular duty, as Percival pitched a scoreless ninth Sunday, giving up a single and hitting a batter in a non-save situation.

"I felt really good," Percival said. "I didn't feel any problems in the back or the (hamstring). (My) mechanics were a little bit off once I got a little adrenaline going. But I was still able to throw my fastball where I wanted it."

Percival has had two stints on the DL — the first on May 29 — with a hamstring that has bothered him since spring training. But he said this rehab was different as the Rays medical staff pinpointed a problem in his back that caused the hamstring issues and treated it accordingly.

"Even when I came off the DL the last time, it didn't hurt, but it didn't feel like it was normal. Now it feels normal," Percival said. "I wouldn't even have wanted to try to cover bases, but I felt fine for pitching. After about six or seven outings, it started getting worse and worse and worse. Now, I'm pushing it hard."

Glover said his calf has felt tender since his last appearance July 10, when he gave up six hits and seven runs in two-thirds of an inning. He has tried to throw, but, when he lands, "it doesn't feel right."

"I was afraid it would lead to something worse," Glover said. "So I'm trying to be careful with it to see how it goes."

GROOMING GRANT: Though Grant Balfour will relinquish most of his closing opportunities to Percival, both Maddon and Percival believe the hard-throwing Aussie has the stuff to be groomed as the team's future closer.

And Percival has been doing some tutoring before passing the torch. Balfour, 30, has gone 4-for-4 in save chances this season and leads all major-league relievers in strikeouts per nine innings (13.89) and opponent batting average (.130).

"He's definitely got the stuff," Percival said. "I talked to him numerous times, just said, 'Look, this is gonna be a job you'll do for a long time; you've got the mentality for it.' That's why I'm here. It's to help. I'm not here for myself. If I can help him be a closer for 10 years to come, then that's what I'm here to do."

KAZ ON TRACK: LHP Scott Kazmir said he doesn't feel rusty after his start was pushed back two days because of his one-inning appearance in Tuesday's All-Star Game. The Rays were erring on the side of caution because Kazmir threw 104 pitches two days before his All-Star win, but Kazmir said he felt like he was "on my same schedule."

Kazmir said after his last start in Cleveland that his confidence wasn't "really there," in terms of not wanting to throw a certain pitch in a certain spot. But he said the break helped him with that, too, as he will try to rebound after going 1-4 with a 4.97 ERA in his past seven starts.

"We all needed this break; I really needed it," Kazmir said. "I felt like I just needed to hit the reset button a little bit and hopefully get back on track for the second half."

MISCELLANY: CF B.J. Upton, hitting in the second spot after hitting seventh Saturday, walked and got his team-high 28th stolen base. … Right-handed prospect Wade Davis, making his first start for Triple-A Durham, threw seven shutout innings, allowing three hits and three walks with six strikeouts.

Rays' Percival returns to closing, grooming 07/20/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 22, 2008 4:56pm]
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