ST. PETERSBURG — Two days after losing the closer title, Rays RHP Grant Balfour recovered for one of his best performances of the season.
But manager Joe Maddon said that doesn't mean Balfour's the closer once again.
"Nothing has changed," Maddon said.
Balfour entered in the seventh — his earliest entry in a game since August 2012 — and delivered 2⅓ perfect innings to earn his 10th save of the season. Maddon said that wasn't necessarily the plan, but he stuck with Balfour after he ended the eighth with only 16 pitches.
With LHP Jake McGee unavailable because of soreness, Maddon said he would have turned to RHP Joel Peralta in the ninth. But after saying all week that Balfour could still come out in save situations in the new closer-by-committee approach, Maddon backed up his words.
"It should really bolster his confidence," Maddon said.
MADDON ENDORSEMENT: Soon-to-be Hall of Famer and Tampa native Tony La Russa gave a strong endorsement to the job Maddon is doing managing the Rays through their extended skid.
"I just visited with him, and there's nobody who manages any better than Joe, whether you're going well or you're struggling," La Russa said. "One of the things that he's doing is that he's keeping the club intact. It's a long season.
"I will guarantee you that when they get to the second half of the season, the Rays will be in contention. And a lot of it is because of the way he's handling the struggles. There's a lot of clubs struggling at some point during the season."
La Russa, 69, threw the ceremonial first pitch Wednesday in acknowledgement of his July 27 induction.
draft breeze: The Rays announced that they've signed 10 more draft picks: INF Michael Russell (fifth round) RHP Bradley Wallace (10th), INF Jace Conrad (13th), LHP Greg Maisto (16th), LHP Steve Ascher (17th), RHP Kyle McKenzie (20th), LHP Ryan Pennell (22nd), 1B Nic Wilson (24th), 3B Carter Burgess (28th) and OF Chris DeMorais (28th).
They have now come to terms with seven of their top 11 draft picks. The deadline to sign picks is July 18.
medical matters: C Ryan Hanigan (hamstring) made his first start in his return from the disabled list after missing the past 14 games. He finished 0-for-3 with a walk and two strikeouts. Maddon said he doesn't want to rush him back too quickly, so he likely will rotate starts between Hanigan and Jose Molina.
RHP Jeremy Hellickson (elbow) is scheduled to make his second rehab start (four innings, 60 pitches) tonight for Triple-A Durham at Indianapolis. He's expected to make one more rehab start before returning to the Rays this month. Maddon said OF Brandon Guyer (thumb) is doing well after having his cast removed this week but did not know when he might return.
community service: Tuesday's broadcast auction raised $86,500 for the Rays Baseball Foundation and Tampa General Hospital Foundation. … RHP Brad Boxberger and LHP Matt Moore visited All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg on Wednesday.
miscellany: The start time for the July 6 game at Detroit has been pushed back to 8:07 p.m. to be shown on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball. … RHP Alex Colome gave up his first run of the season for Durham, snapping his streak of 22 2/3 scoreless innings for the Bulls, dating to last season.
Times staff writer Matt Baker can be reached at [email protected]