ST. PETERSBURG - Who will the Rays use to close games during Troy Percival's stay on the disabled list? It sounds like just about everyone in the bullpen will be eligible.
"We go with them all," Manager Joe Maddon said. "I'm not going to name a closer. I think we have several guys that could finish a game and we're just going to match it up as it gets deeper."
RHP Dan Wheeler and RHP Al Reyes both spent time closing games last season, with Wheeler racking up 11 saves for the Astros and Reyes 26 for the Rays.
"I think we're pretty fortunate right now," said Wheeler, "where I've got a little experience and obviously Al with what he was able to do last year for us in the closer's role."
Wheeler has been the Rays' most effective reliever aside from Percival this season, holding opponents to a .161 average and compiling a 2.19 ERA in 23 appearances, so he may have the early edge. Or, Maddon could tab LHP Trever Miller for the ninth if the opposition has a lefty-heavy part of the lineup coming up in the final inning.
Maddon also said he would be comfortable with LHP J.P. Howell getting the final out of a game and noted Gary Glover's cameo appearances as the closer for the Rays last season.
"We're going to play the game, see how it matches up, and we're just going to figure it out as it's in progress and I believe our guys are going to do a great job," Maddon said.
He'll have one additional option beginning tonight, as the Rays said following Thursday's game that they will purchase RHP Grant Balfour's contract from Durham. Balfour has racked up eight saves for the Bulls, posting a 0.38 ERA along the way.
However it pans out over the next couple of weeks, Percival is confident his bullpen mates will be able to hold down the fort in his absence.
"I think with the starters we have, absolutely," Percival said. "If the starters were out there going five innings, it'd be very difficult, but with the way these guys are throwing, getting deep into ballgames, sure. They've got good enough stuff to definitely hold down the ninth inning."
DRAFT WATCH: A week away from making the first overall selection in this year's draft, the Rays still don't have a clear idea who they'll take, according to scouting director R.J. Harrison and executive vice president Andrew Friedman.
Harrison said the Rays are still keeping their eyes on five players: Florida State C Buster Posey, Griffin (Ga.) High SS Tim Beckham, Vanderbilt 3B Pedro Alvarez, University of San Diego LHP Brian Matusz and Patriot High (Rubidoux, Calif.) C Kyle Skipworth.
Friedman acknowledged the field realistically has been cut to three. He wouldn't name them, but Posey, Beckham and Alvarez are believed to be the likely candidates. The Rays have yet to engage in contract talks with any of the players' advisers.
"I don't know if we can sign one of them before the draft," Harrison said. "Right now we're just planning on taking the best ballplayer and we'll get him signed."
As satisfying as it is for the Rays to select at the top of the board, they're also excited because they believe their days in that spot are over.
"We even have a little more self-imposed kind of pressure," said Friedman, "because in our minds and our planning, hopefully this is the last time we're picking this high for a while, so we've put a little more pressure on ourselves to add another impact player before hopefully we start picking in the 20s."
ZOBRIST OUT: To make room for Balfour on the roster, the Rays optioned IF/OF Ben Zobrist to Durham following Thursday's game. Zobrist went 4-for-15 in seven appearances for the Rays after spending the first month and a half of the season on the disabled list.
"I've just got to take it in stride and go down there and keep getting better every day and be prepared to help the team when they need me again," Zobrist said.
NOTEWORTHY: Rocco Baldelli returned to action in an extended spring training game Thursday, going 1-for-5 as the DH. ... IF Willy Aybar, who was reinstated from the DL to take Percival's roster spot, started at DH on Thursday and will be used there and at first, second and third base, Maddon said.