ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays erred on the side of caution Thursday when they placed closer Troy Percival on the 15-day disabled list, relieved his left hamstring strain is not considered significant.
After an MRI exam came up clean, manager Joe Maddon said the 38-year-old veteran should serve the minimum number of days on the DL. Percival, who plans to make the team's upcoming nine-game road trip, said he hopes to be throwing on the side within a week.
"I've been fighting this since spring training," Percival said. "I popped my hamstrings — my left and my right one — in spring training. I never really took time off the mound to try to get it to heal properly. … Give me two weeks and it'll definitely be enough time to build some strength into it."
In the meantime, Maddon said there will be a closer-by-committee approach as the first-place Rays enter a rigorous stretch against the White Sox, Red Sox, Rangers, Angels, Marlins and Cubs. Dan Wheeler and Al Reyes are likely to split the primary duties, but Maddon said he would also use Trever Miller, J.P. Howell and possibly Gary Glover.
To bolster the bullpen, reliever Grant Balfour was selected from Triple-A Durham after Thursday's game, with INF Ben Zobrist being optioned there.
INF Willy Aybar was activated from the DL after a 45-game stay to correspond with Percival's departure, which will affect the Rays in many ways.
"It's a huge loss," Wheeler said. "What he's been able to do for us — on and off the field — is invaluable. … We're going to go out there and battle for him."
Percival felt tightness in the hamstring during the May 20 game in Oakland, then pitched Sunday with no problem. He was one out from his 15th save Wednesday when he crumpled to the ground and was unable to continue.
Percival said a nerve shut down and his leg gave out. But it didn't feel any worse than what he has been experiencing since the spring.
"Armwise, my arm hasn't felt this good in probably five or six years," Percival said. "That's encouraging for me. Now if I can get my base back underneath me consistently, I think I'll be able to go out there as often as I can."
ROCCO REPORT: OF Rocco Baldelli went 1-for-5 as the DH in an extended spring game Thursday against the Phillies. Baldelli ran "a little on the easy side" but said he felt good overall.
Baldelli, on the DL since spring training due to a rare condition that causes muscle fatigue in his legs, is scheduled to play again in a few days. There is no timetable for his return to the majors.
AYBAR BACK: Aybar, the opening day third baseman, said he never thought his hamstring strain would keep him out so long, but he is excited to have any role. Maddon said Aybar will get some time at first, second and third base. Aybar was the DH on Thursday, going 1-for-4, legging out a double and scoring while showing no ill effects.
MISCELLANY: RHP Jason Hammel made a relief appearance for the first time since May 21, giving up one run in three innings. … SS Jason Bartlett had a career-high three steals. … With Zobrist getting optioned, Maddon said 3B Evan Longoria will serve as the backup shortstop when needed. … The free Looper Trolley will run Saturday and take fans from parking garages to the Trop. It will make a pickup at the corner of Central Avenue and Second Street.
Times staff writer Marc Topkin contributed to this report. Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.