OF Fernando Perez had figured that by missing most of the season after left wrist surgery, the biggest impact he'd make in September would be by pinch running and playing defense.
But on Friday night, Perez started in centerfield, replacing injured B.J. Upton, out a few days with a sprained left ankle.
It was similar to September 2008, when Perez had 10 straight starts as Upton sat with a left quads strain. Perez made an impact in the Rays' playoff push, from his baserunning to three homers, and he scored the winning run on Upton's sacrifice fly in Game 2 of the ALCS.
"He was one of those catalyst kind of guys," manager Joe Maddon said. And he hopes the speedy Perez can deliver a similar "spark" this time.
"It's the exact same scenario as last year: B.J. gets hurt, and somebody has to go out there and play," Perez said. "As soon as it happened, I was thinking, 'Here it goes again.' I'm excited. I obviously wish he could be out here; it's not an ideal situation to play, but you've got to take it."
Perez, 26, had a good chance to make his first opening day roster but dislocated his left wrist in a spring training game March 10 while attempting a diving catch. The switch-hitter had surgery March 21 and worked his way back.
Maddon said the decision to start Perez was partly because he wanted to rest 2B Akinori Iwamura (sore left ankle), putting Ben Zobrist at second.
"I think Fernando could provide a spark with his legs," Maddon said. "He did that in the past, and I can see him doing that in the future. I thought it was a good opportunity (Friday) to get him out there."
Getting better: Upton is doing better than expected and should return by Sunday or when the Rays open a series in New York on Monday, Maddon said. Upton collided with LF Carl Crawford on the warning track Thursday and landed awkwardly on his left ankle. Upton used a crutch Thursday but was walking around better Friday.
Same Shields: RHP James Shields enters tonight's start with the admittedly "awkward" situation of facing the same opponent in back-to-back outings, a feat he has completed twice this season (Red Sox in May; Blue Jays in July).
Shields, who gave up four earned runs in seven innings for a win Monday in Detroit, said he won't change his approach too much but can still learn from it.
"It's more of executing my pitch," he said. "The balls that were hit (in Detroit) were more or less around the middle of the plate."
Shields said his changeup has improved in recent starts.
"It has more depth to it," Maddon said. "It's not so much side to side; it's more the way which it had been when he first came on board and he was really good with it."
All in: Maddon will continue to use his bigger bullpen, as he did in the Red Sox series, when he used 17 (including four in one inning). Part of it is because they have had a mix-and-match bullpen all year long, Maddon said, and with extra reserves - nine relievers total - they have more options and can be more "liberal" in use.
"Furthermore, at this time of year, I'm gonna be more apt to want to try to do things to prevent another run, because one more run can be that critical. Whereas during the season, when you're playing in May, you just can't take the chance of running people out too much at that point when you don't have enough reserves."
Did you know?: How rare was OF Desmond Jennings' feat of going 7-for-7 on Thursday at Triple-A Durham? Only two players in major-league history have had seven hits in a nine-inning game: Hall of Famer Wilbert Robinson (Baltimore) on June 10, 1892, and the Pirates' Rennie Stennett on Sept. 16, 1975.