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Cardinals have two weeks to call up Percival

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Troy Percival stepped onto the field here at AutoZone Park for the first time Monday night and paused to soak in the scene.

"It's beautiful," said the 37-year-old reliever, who could be activated by the Triple-A Redbirds as soon as Wednesday as he begins his attempt at a big-league comeback.

One way or another, Percival doesn't intend to stick around Memphis for long.

Having signed a minor-league contract with the St. Louis Cardinals last week, the former Los Angeles Angels closer said it wouldn't take long to determine whether he's still got it.

"It shouldn't take more than three or four outings to know whether I can get guys out," said Percival, who hasn't pitched in the majors since 2005, when a right forearm injury signaled an apparent end to his stellar 11-year big-league career.

After driving to Memphis from St. Louis on Monday, Percival dressed quickly, took the field and threw a side session in the bullpen with manager Chris Maloney and pitching coach Dyar Miller looking on prior to a 7-1 loss to Nashville.

How did Percival feel after the 35-pitch session?

"If felt like I've been in a car for five hours," he said.

Maloney and Miller seemed pleased with the fast-paced workout, which was fit in before the game's first pitch.

"He knows how to pitch," Miller said. "The ball was down and it came out of his hand nice. He looked all right to me."

Maloney said Percival, who ranks 12th all-time and fifth among active players with 324 career saves, will not necessarily pitch in the closer's role for the Redbirds.

"We're just gonna get him some innings," Maloney said. "He's not really gonna have a role his first few times out. We're just gonna try to get him in there and get his arm strength up and get him in shape.

"When he thinks he's ready, we'll move him," Maloney said.

The Cardinals have two weeks to call Percival up to St. Louis or an opt-out clause in his contract will allow him to sign with another team.

Percival hasn't pitched in the big leagues since July 2005, when he was injured during the first year of a two-year deal with the Detroit Tigers. He attempted a comeback the following spring but was unable to throw without pain.

Percival said the transition into his short-lived retirement after 11 seasons was eased by his injury.

"I didn't think much about it because I knew at the time I couldn't do it," said Percival, who was working as a special assignment pitching instructor for the Angels before deciding to attempt his comeback.

It was while working with his son's PONY League team that Percival, who helped the Angels win the 2002 World Series by closing out Game 7 against the San Francisco Giants, first began seriously toying with the idea of a comeback.

"Originally it was just to see what it looked like," he said. "The more I kept throwing, my arm wasn't hurting."

Eventually, Percival began working out at his alma mater, the University of California at Riverside. His fastball was clocked in the low-to-mid 90s. Former Angels teammates-turned-Cardinals like Adam Kennedy and Scott Spiezio began passing along tales of Percival's comeback effort. Other clubs also became aware of his comeback thoughts.

"People kept looking at me going, 'Dude, why aren't you pitching?' " Percival said. "I said, 'I don't know.' The next thing I knew, the Cardinals called me."

Percival said now it's just a matter of "getting my feet under me" before he's ready to face major-league batters.

"You can tell he's a gamer," Miller said. "He wants to get going."