Easy on arm, tough on team

By Marc Topkin, Times Staff Writer
Published February 10, 2008

ST. PETERSBURG - New closer Troy Percival is a veteran of 12 big-league seasons but showed up for early workouts last week, and with a plan.

A couple, actually.

First is to carefully limit his spring workload as he prepares for what would be his first full season since 2004. Percival, 38, won't throw hard and will pitch in just a handful of games until late March, conserving now to have more left for what the Rays are paying him $4-million to do: get the final out in 35-40 games, as he has done 324 times before, 12th most all time.

"I'll keep it easy the next three weeks and probably won't break 87-88 mph until the last week of camp because I understand now that anything I do now is something less that I can do later," he said. "It's just about getting my body in shape and getting my arm in shape. The stuff will be there. I know how to pitch."

He rediscovered that last summer when he ended his yearlong retirement to join the Cardinals and suddenly was throwing 92-94 mph and getting more outs with fewer pitches.

As important, he plans to be an active force in the Rays clubhouse.

"I see a lot of young, talented kids that I think they just need to learn how to win," Percival said. "When you get caught in a situation where losing has become more acceptable than it should be, they don't have the sense of urgency that every game is important.

"That's the biggest thing for me, is to come in here - and I did the same thing in Detroit - and say, 'Guys, every game that we drop now, those are games that later on in the year we'll look back on and go, 'Oh, man ... '"

Percival has a series of messages to get his point across, and though he laughs when he says, "I take over the whole locker room," you don't get the impression he's kidding, knowing he plans to be among the first to arrive and last to leave each day.

One: "We play hard for nine innings. There's no giving away at-bats, there's no just getting your work in."

Another: "You have to make the young guys realize we're playing a game, but we show up to the field every day to win, not to play."

For some Rays, those will be welcome words.

ALL BUSINESS: The Rays will venture into the now popular all-you-can-eat ticket offer, but, at least initially, only on a group basis, with about $35 getting all the hot dogs, sausages, nachos, popcorn, sodas and waters you can handle. ... A Saturday night concert series schedule should be finalized by the Feb.23 launch of individual game ticket sales. ... Merchandise with the new logo (finally) will be sold during workouts at the training facility.

RAYS RUMBLINGS: Could the Rays' be opportunistic/buy low mind-set lead to an offer to still-unemployed Barry Bonds? ... B.J. Upton posed with brother Justin for an ESPN the Magazine cover shot. ... Of all the players let go by the Rays after last season, Greg Norton is the one without a job. ... New reliever Trever Miller recently completed his first marathon, covering Disney's 26.2 miles in 4:27.27. ... The Rays might like to have available A's RHP Joe Blanton, but not enough to engage in trade talks. ... Baseball Prospectus' Joe Sheehan labels the Rays "poised to crack .500" with an interesting perspective: "This is a good baseball team, and maybe the worst Rays team of the next six years." ... The Rays have to be glad to see LHP Erik Bedard traded from Baltimore - he was 10-3 against them with 108 strikeouts in 107 innings. ... The Trop is getting serious shades of blue paint. ... In his 2008 Handbook, Bill James tabs Scott Kazmir as the major-leaguer with the best chance (24 percent) to pitch a no-hitter. ... Rocco Baldelli has been taking balls at first base "for fun" but says there are no plans to play there. ... Baseball America projects the Rays making Griffin (Ga.) High SS Tim Beckham the No. 1 overall draft pick. ... 3B Evan Longoria (No. 13), OF Justin Ruggiano (69), LHP David Price (93) and LHP Jake McGee (99) made Sports Weekly'slist of 100 Names You Need to Know.

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com.

Rays on deck

First workout for pitchers and catchers: Friday

First full-squad workout: Feb. 20

Site: Naimoli complex, 7901 30th Ave. N, St. Petersburg

Times: 9:30 a.m. to noon

Admission, parking: Free

Autograph chances: Good, usually after the workouts.

Other area teams: Phillies start Thursday in Clearwater, Yankees start Friday in Tampa, and Blue Jays start Saturday in Dunedin.