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Percival takes step toward timely return

Percival takes step toward timely return

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ST. PETERSBURG -- Troy Percival threw around 30 pitches off a mound prior to the Rays' game on Tuesday, and was optimistic that he would resume closing duties on Saturday, the first day that he is eligible to come off the disabled list.

"I'll be ready when they are ready for me," Percival said. "Because I could have pitched today."

The veteran right-hander -- who has been shelved since Aug. 15 with cartilage damage in his right knee -- played catch on Monday and came away from Tuesday's outing confident he wouldn't need a rehab appearance.

Rays manager Joe Maddon agreed, although he did not rule out the possibility.

"With him, if it's good, he probably doesn't have to go anywhere," Maddon said. "But, then again, I have to make sure all the doctors are on board with this."

Maddon, who watched Percival for about 20 of Tuesday's throws, was encouraged by the right-hander's ability to hit spots and throw with no hesitation.

The skipper's concerns are well-placed considering Percival has struggled with hamstring injuries this season -- twice landing him on the DL -- and has often taken the hill despite being in substantial amounts of pain.

Percival opted out of season-ending knee surgery on Aug. 18, saying the pain was "tolerable" and wouldn't do any further damage. After Tuesday's session, he confirmed that his knee pain -- although present with every pitch -- wouldn't be a hindrance.

"It doesn't affect my delivery because the pain comes pretty much right after I throw the ball," Percival said.

The injury occurred on Aug. 14 when the 38-year-old Percival fielded a bunt from Oakland's Mark Ellis and chased him down the first-base line. As for his agility now, Percival is confident he can cover first base and field a bunt, but said he doesn't expect to be "spurting around" a lot on the hill.

A four-time All-Star, Percival is 2-0 with 27 saves and a 3.69 ERA this season with the Rays. He has held opponents to a .162 average, which ranks sixth-lowest among Major League relievers, and is seventh on the all-time saves list with 351 successful saves.

The Rays are 32-0 when the veteran Percival enters a save situation and have been using a closer-by-committee approach in his absence as Maddon has declined to name a de facto closer.

But right-hander Dan Wheeler has done a majority of the late-inning work, earning all eight of his saves with Percival on the DL.

Brittany Ghiroli is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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