ST. PETERSBURG — LHP David Price made his Tropicana Field debut Thursday in an intriguing relief appearance, one which could be a preview of his potential role in a postseason push.
Price, the top pick of the 2007 draft, received a standing ovation as he entered in the seventh in a sticky situation. With the Rays ahead 7-4, Price inherited runners on second and third with one out. He was set to face three tough left-handed hitters — C Joe Mauer, 1B Justin Morneau and DH Jason Kubel.
After giving up a two-run single to Mauer, Price struck out Morneau looking and Kubel swinging, clocking 93-94 mph in the process. Manager Joe Maddon called it a "perfect situation to get (Price) a test drive, and I thought he did really well."
Said Morneau: "He's not scared. He came right after us. He's got a chance to be pretty good."
With Price pitching just two-thirds of an inning Thursday (14 pitches), it leaves the possibility open he could be available to start in the second game of Tuesday's doubleheader.
Price, who made his big- league debut Sunday in Yankee Stadium, said he loves pressure situations like Thursday's.
"That's what you want to pitch for right there," Price said. "Everybody wants to hit when the bases are loaded, two outs, bottom of the ninth. All of our pitchers, they want the ball, whenever."
PERCIVAL STRONG: Closer Troy Percival was "pretty happy" with throwing a scoreless eighth Thursday, his first appearance since leaving his Sept. 10 outing with tightness in his back. Percival gave up one hit and struck out one, throwing 26 pitches (16 strikes).
Although his offspeed pitches were a bit "off," he's been feeling much better physically since Tuesday's epidural injection in his lower back.
Said Percival: "I was real glad being able to have my normal leg kick, my normal follow through, and being able to drive the fastball through the zone as opposed to just trying to put one in there."
CRAWFORD UPDATE: Maddon acknowledged that LF Carl Crawford would likely not return to the starting lineup through the first round of the playoffs. If he does play at that time, it would be as a pinch-runner or a defensive replacement.
Crawford, who is on the disabled list with a tendon problem in his right middle finger, said he is still "a ways away" from being able to hit. "If they do make it to the World Series or the second round (of the playoffs), whenever I have a chance to come back," Crawford said. "I'll just be happy to get back whenever I can."
UPTON CLOSE: CF B.J. Upton (strained left quadriceps), who missed his ninth straight game, said he felt good after taking batting practice Thursday and added he's available to pinch-hit if needed. Maddon said it's possible Upton could return to the starting lineup Saturday or Sunday. Upton said he doesn't want to rush back and risk the chance of aggravating the injury, thus putting him out for any postseason play.
HOMECOMING: Twins rookie OF Denard Span, a former Tampa Catholic High standout, left 30 tickets for family and friends for Thursday's game, his first at Tropicana Field. And he put on a good show, going 2-for-4 and sparking the five-run ninth-inning rally with a leadoff single. Said Span: "For me to get that thing going, it was big for us."
MISCELLANY: Backup C Shawn Riggans (right knee surgery) was placed on the 15-day disabled list, giving the Rays roster flexibility for the postseason. … Rocco Baldelli started at DH for the first time since Saturday, going 0-for-4. … The Rays moved ahead of the 1999 season for the second-best single season attendance in club history (1,711,584 in 78 home dates), trailing the 1998 inaugural season (2,506,023).