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Tampa Bay Rays newcomer Joyce feels "great" in first spring test of injured leg

GOOD IMPRESSION: Closer Troy Percival has looked strong this spring, though the Rays still plan to be cautious with him.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

GOOD IMPRESSION: Closer Troy Percival has looked strong this spring, though the Rays still plan to be cautious with him.

PORT CHARLOTTE — OF Matt Joyce, sidelined all spring with right leg tendinitis, said he physically felt "great" Tuesday in his spring debut as DH in a minor-league exhibition with Durham against Rochester.

Joyce had three plate appearances, going 0-for-2 with a walk and strikeout. He also got some work running the bases; he scored in the first, jogging home on a single, and got picked off first in the fifth. Though the results weren't what he'd like, Joyce was encouraged with how his body responded.

"Everything felt great; nothing with the calf," Joyce said. "Legs felt a little bit like Jell-O, but for the first day out there, it's expected. Now the body's just got to catch up with everything, with the mind. But the leg feels great."

Joyce, acquired from the Tigers in the Edwin Jackson trade, said he's slated to play in the outfield today in a minor-league game, and if all goes well he could get some at-bats with the Rays against the Cardinals on Thursday.

"It was great just to get out there and play, just to get on the field and run," Joyce said. "Obviously it's not really the way you want to start, but usually when you start bad, you usually have a good year — so I'm pretty positive about that one."

SHIELDS STRONG: RHP James Shields was sharp in his start for Durham, pitching 51/3 shutout innings while striking out five and giving up just one hit. Shields worked so effectively, the Rays had him throw to an extra hitter in the fifth to get him up to 65 pitches.

Shields was happy with the outing, which came on the Rays' off day and keeps him on schedule for his second straight opening day start, April 6 in Boston. He said he worked in more breaking balls, throwing "around five or six good ones."

"My last game, I felt like I was in season form as far as my direction toward the plate, and I felt the same" Tuesday, Shields said. "I feel really good."

IN CLOSING: The Rays are very pleased with how well Troy Percival has looked. But even if he looks better by opening day, manager Joe Maddon said the Rays will be cautious in how they use him.

"I don't want to just get him out there and start pushing him on a daily basis,'' he said. "If we were to get hot and then you've got 3-4 wins in a row that are close situations, that would be counterproductive to get him out there that many days in a row. If we were able to figure out how to get (Jason Isringhausen) within the mix, then of course you'd be able to bounce it back and forth, and obviously that's been in the back of my mind.

"I don't know if that's going to work or not. With Percy I still want to be somewhat cautious in the beginning and see if we can nurture it through the entire season. I don't want to have him get out good and all of a sudden be concerned about July, August, September."

Maddon said he would have the same plan if Isringhausen isn't on the team, using Dan Wheeler, Grant Balfour and others as he did last season.

Times staff writer Marc Topkin contributed to this report. Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay Rays newcomer Joyce feels "great" in first spring test of injured leg 03/17/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 18, 2009 6:57am]

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