Tampa Bay Rays' David Price looks sharp in final spring tuneup for his start Saturday against Yankees

adell@bradenton.comApril 3, 2012 

PORT CHARLOTTE -- The Tampa Bay Rays are a little banged up, but there are a lot of reasons to feel good heading into Friday's season opener.

One of the reasons was on display Monday when lefty David Price had his final tuneup for his first scheduled regular-season start Saturday against the New York Yankees.

Price was efficient, sharp and virtually unhittable in his four innings against the Minnesota Twins. He struck out six and allowed one base runner via a single, throwing 42 pitches with 28 going for strikes.

"It's good. You want someone on or out in three pitches or less," Price said. "That is something all pitchers want to try and do, and the great ones do it every time. Working on efficiency is something all five of us (starters) take pride in. We want to get as deep as we can into the ball game,"

Price's performance comes on the heels of a resurgent Rays offense that has produced 17 home runs in their last 14 games after hitting only six in the previous 16. They got two against the Twins, including one from Sean Rodriguez, who is battling for the starting shortstop job.

"I am very excited to start the season," Price said. "We've always had high expectations, and if we go out and pitch the way we are capable of pitching and play defense the way we are capable of playing defense and swinging the bat like we are, I think we have a pretty good team."

The Rays' success will depend a lot on Price, whose 34 starts last season tied with seven others for the most in the majors. He and Rays manager Joe Maddon were particularly pleased with his slider.

"David was really good. There was a little bit of an adjustment to his delivery, and I liked it a lot. I thought the ball came out of his hand great," Maddon said. "His fastball is always good velocity-wise, but I thought his snap on the breaking ball was better. He should feel pretty

good about this performance because they were working on things and he took it right into the game well."

Price was particularly pleased about his slider and the progress of the others in the starting rotation with everyone peaking at the same time. He still sees spring training as a learning process for the starters because they are all so young.

"This is spring training. You are not going to come out in your first couple of starts and throw your best," Price said. "You are getting out the nicks from the offseason and last season. We threw a lot of pitches last season, and you are going to come back a little more sore than the year before.

"I throw the curveball later in spring because it gives my arm more time to get stronger, and it's easier on my elbow. Obviously, I have a lot of pride and don't want to give up six or seven runs when I go out there, but you are working on stuff and finding out new things. My slider was the best it has been all spring and getting the sharpness that it had in 2008."

Though the Rays are fighting through injuries that will have center fielder B.J. Upton on the disabled list to start the season, Price is happy with what he has seen from the offense, particularly in the past couple of weeks.

"We have some thumpers in our lineup if we can get a couple of them hot at the same time," Price said. "We have some nicks and bruises, but that is every team in baseball. People have got to be able to step up, and we've got to be able to get through it until the guys get back, and we will take it from there. It's good to see their bats are very alive. It's fun to watch them take batting practice and see they are putting that into the game."

One of the most important things for a pitcher is his relationship with his catcher, and Price said he couldn't be more pleased with how things are going with Jose Molina, who joined the Rays during the offseason.

"We were talking walking in from the dugout and he said, 'If you want to throw something shake me off and don't get into the rhythm of me just putting something down and you throwing it,'" Price said "'That is how I am going to learn how you want to pitch. The more I catch you the more I am going to understand what you are trying to do.'"

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