tampabay.com

Maddon keeping an eye on closer's comeback

By MARC TOPKIN
Published May 20, 2007


ST. PETERSBURG - Do you think the Devil Rays could find room in their bullpen for a veteran with a track record of success and a reputation as a tremendous leader?

Former All-Star closer Troy Percival, a longtime favorite of manager Joe Maddon when both were with the Angels, is planning a comeback after missing most of 2005 and all of 2006 with a forearm injury.

Agent Paul Cohen told the Los Angeles Times that Percival, 37, would spend two weeks working out and considering options.

The Rays might be one.

"If his arm is well, Percy, first of all, is a very top-end relief pitcher regardless if he's been out a little bit or not," Maddon said. "No. 2, Percy's really good in the bullpen because he's a mentor and he really gets involved personally, talking about the game. His preparation is spectacular. ... All the things he does in the clubhouse and the bullpen are kind of extraordinary."

Percival, who threw his last pitch at Tropicana Field on July 9, 2005, has been working as an Angels minor-league instructor.

Rays catcher Josh Paul, another ex-Angel, said Percival would be a great addition.

"He's probably the best leader I've seen as far as pitchers go," Paul said. "He knows the game. Obviously with 300 saves he has a lot of experience with success, and sprinkled in there he's failed, so he knows the difference. I'd love to have him on this club."

ABSENCE OF MALICE: Paul was sore and wrapped in ice after Florida C Miguel Olivo slid hard into his left arm spikes high, but he had no problem with the play. "There was nothing wrong with the slide," Paul said. "No malice."

GOOD FOR NOW: James Shields is 3-0 with a tidy 3.13 ERA, has allowed the lowest batting average (.199) in the league and ranks among AL leaders in strikeouts (54), innings (601/3) and fewest walks per nine innings (1.5).

But Maddon said that does not mean Shields, who starts today, has supplanted LHP Scott Kazmir (2-2, 3.83) as the Rays' ace, primarily because Kazmir has done it longer.

"Kaz was the No. 1 pitcher to start the season and he's still the No. 1 pitcher, " Maddon said. "Shieldsy has pitched at a very high level to this point. I like the idea that Shieldsy has grown into the pitcher he is. Scott Kazmir made the All-Star team last year. You don't jump on and off bandwagons that quickly. I like the fact that he's turning into the kind of pitcher that can be considered a No. 1 kind of starter. At least he's getting there.

"That's what happens around here sometimes. People have a good start or a couple of good weeks or a month and all of a sudden he's anointed."

MINOR MATTERS: Class A Columbus RHP Wade Townsend, the 2005 first-round pick, returned from the DL (arm fatigue) with a strong outing Friday, striking out nine in a six-inning complete game. ... Double-A Montgomery 3B Evan Longoria has reached base in 36 straight games.

MISCELLANY: Elijah Dukes tied for the team high with his eighth homer and matched - of all people - Josh Hamilton for the most among rookies. ... Jonny Gomes hit his first homer since July 29. ... The Rays are 2-16 in games decided by three or more runs. ... Baseball America's first mock draft has the Rays, as expected, taking Vanderbilt LHP David Price first overall. ... LF Carl Crawford may get today off. ... The Rays have allowed a major-league-high 57 homers.