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Percival undeterred by uneven results

Percival undeterred by uneven results

ST. PETERSBURG -- Local talk radio and message boards were lit up Thursday morning with a hot topic: Troy Percival. Many wondered why the veteran remains the Rays' closer.

Percival entered the game Wednesday night to make his 700th career appearance while Tampa Bay enjoyed a six-run cushion.

He immediately gave up a double to Cesar Izturis before surrendering a two-run homer to Brian Roberts. Felix Pie followed with a solo shot to cut the lead to three runs. One out later, Aubrey Huff doubled to right to chase Percival in favor of J.P. Howell.

Percival had given up back-to-back homers only once in his career, on May 12, 1996, in the ninth inning of a game between the Angels and Indians. He actually allowed three home runs in that inning, but two of them were consecutive -- first a solo home run by Sandy Alomar Jr. followed by a shot from Jim Thome.

Despite his dreary outing, Percival found some positives about his performance.

"I felt good and there was no excuse for it," Percival said. "I was just getting underneath the ball, which I didn't think I was doing down in the bullpen.

"But that's the strongest my arm has felt in two years. And I was just throwing the ball down the middle. I guess I should have treated it more like a one-run game and really focused on hitting my edges and what have you."

Percival entered Thursday night's game with a 1-0 record, a 6.00 ERA and just five saves. The low save total is more indicative of the fact the Rays have curiously played in few games in which they've held a lead of three runs or fewer -- a closing situation.

"When you're playing on the road like that, it's tough to spot the guy you're going to close the game with in a close game because you may need him," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "At home, when you're playing a nine-inning game, if the game's out of reach one way or the other, you just pop him into the top of the ninth and he gets his inning of work. So road trips make it difficult to get a closer work in a close-game scenario. We went a whole week without throwing him. He got hot once up in Boston, and that was it. You liked the idea that he's not been overused in a sense, but I don't like to have him so underused, either."

Maddon was asked if he was going to be comfortable handing over the ball to Percival in closing situations.

"If you look at the numbers coming into [Wednesday night's] game, the lefties have hurt him a lot more than the righties," Maddon said. "And I really thought he threw the ball, velocity-wise, good -- elevated-wise, not good. Seven days not pitching was not good. And all the time he had in between coming into the game, when we had that long last inning, that wasn't good. So there were different components I didn't like about yesterday.

Maddon went on to say he also had concerns based on the fact a lot of closers don't like to pitch with a six-run lead.

"But the thing I liked, he hit 93 [mph] on their gun last night," Maddon said. "That might be the high point for him in a while. And he felt pretty good. I wanted to get him out of there. Obviously, it wasn't going in the right direction. But getting him out as soon as we did, he's eligible to pitch or available. I am not overly concerned right now. I thought he threw the ball pretty good."

Right-handers are hitting .176 against Percival and lefties are hitting .476.

"I'm telling you he's throwing the ball pretty good," Maddon said. "And the disparity between what he's done against lefties and righties is pretty incredible. And we just talked about some things we can do against lefties to tighten that up a bit."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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