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02/17/09 2:17 PM EST

Maddon pleased with depth of bullpen

Rays manager comfortable with ability to 'shift roles' of relievers

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Forget about who will close for the Rays: perhaps a more compelling question is who will be the team's "middle-inning closers?"

Troy Percival may or may not be the team's closer when the season starts, depending on his health. Meanwhile, the guys leading to the closer's spot will go a long way toward determining whether the Rays win or lose a game.

"There's just a moment, that one moment when the game can tip, you almost need a middle-inning closer," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "We utilized J.P. [Howell] and Grant [Balfour] sometimes with one out in the fifth, if that was the impactful part of the game. If that part of the game got away from us, you'll never get to your closer."

Since Maddon first arrived to manage the Rays, he's talked about wanting to have four pitchers in the bullpen who were "even or ahead guys" that he could feel comfortable using with the Rays in a tied game or one in which they are leading.

"We have every bit of that now," Maddon said. "It's going to get to the point where the whole bullpen is an even or ahead guy. So you could use a guy in different situations to get you out of a jam and move it on to the next fella. And if somebody's had a couple of extra days of work, you could actually shift roles because you have that much confidence in them."

Maddon said he will not have certain relievers assigned to specific innings.

"It's that moment of the game that requires attention," Maddon said. "We don't want to let it get away from us, so we'll bring in somebody when it's hot early. So I don't say you're the seventh, eighth or whatever. At the critical juncture of the game, we want to get out of it and we'll use whoever we think we should use that particular day."

Maddon reeled off the names in his bullpen, including Dan Wheeler, Balfour, Howell and Percival, and then added the names of newcomers Brian Shouse and Joe Nelson.

"These guys are very capable of pitching in a variety of situations," Maddon said. "If Percy's available, he's going to have the ninth, and then you try to mix and match the rest of the game. If Percy's not there, of course, it has to be divvied up a little differently."

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