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03/12/09 3:50 PM ET

Percival pleased with first '09 outing

Coming off back surgery, Rays closer retires side in order

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Troy Percival made his first appearance of the spring Thursday against the Phillies, and all went well.

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The veteran reliever retired the Phillies in order in the fifth inning, using nine pitches, and he said he felt encouraged about the outing.

"Absolutely, I threw strikes and I accomplished everything I wanted to do," Percival said. "Four offspeed pitches and five fastballs, and I hit my spots with them."

Ryan Howard swung at Percival's first pitch and beat the ball into the ground in front of home plate. Catcher Dioner Navarro pounced on the ball and threw out Howard at first.

Percival went to a 2-2 count against the next hitter, Geoff Jenkins, and Jenkins, too, beat one into the ground. Again, Navarro pounced on the ball and threw on one hop to first. Carlos Pena made a nice scoop for the second out.

Percival threw a changeup to the third hitter he faced, Greg Dobbs, who watched it go past for strike one. Dobbs then grounded to Pena at first, and Percival hustled over to cover the base for the third out.

"[Percival] looked good today," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "He had to cover some ground. He got over to first base on some balls to the right side. Navvy extended his range a bit for him today -- that was a good thing. But I thought he threw the ball fine, and he came out of it feeling pretty good about it."

Percival called Thursday's outing "a step."

"But I was actually forcing myself to mentally throttle back and throw my pitches, but I did let a couple go," Percival said. "So next time, maybe I'll try and do a little more."

Percival, 39, who signed a $4 million contract for the 2009 season, had surgery in December to try to eradicate the recurring back problem he suffered from during the second half of the '08 season. The surgery, performed in California by Dr. Robert Watkins, was said to be successful.

Before last season's All-Star break, Percival went 1-0 with 19 saves and a 3.54 ERA in 29 games. After the break, the veteran closer went 1-1 with nine saves and a 6.11 ERA in 21 games.

Despite Percival's second-half struggles, he overcame three stints on the disabled list to lead Tampa Bay with 28 saves.

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