Rays relying on Price's maturing arm

Rays relying on Price's maturing arm

Rays relying on Price's maturing arm
ST. PETERSBURG -- Just three times this season has Rays starting pitcher David Price given up four or more runs. In his last five starts, he's been dominant, giving up two or fewer runs.

The lefty's most recent start may be his most impressive this entire season, as he threw seven scoreless innings against the Indians and allowed just two hits and three walks to go with seven more strikeouts. It's games like these that Tampa Bay now counts on to break slumps -- the most recent of which saw the the Rays lose six of the last eight games Price hasn't been on the mound.

"Once again, great command of his fastball, [and] he started mixing in other things," Rays manager Joe Maddon said of his most recent outing. "The fastball command was incredible, lots of 97s and 98s where he wanted to throw it. That's what makes it even better, the fact that it's not only high velocity, but that he located it like that."

Price agreed that his fastball is what has been making the difference this year, compared to his previous seasons in the Majors.

According to fangraphs.com, Price throws his fastball an average of 95.6 mph, the best mark in the American League and second in the Majors only to the Nationals' Stephen Strasburg. The way he's been able to locate it allows his other pitches to build off it.

"I've gotten more velocity, and it's consistent throughout the entire game. My curveball is better and my cutter's more consistent right now, and I throw my changeup whenever I need to," Price said. "It's a little bit tougher for those guys."

Price's 13 wins are the best in the AL and tied for the Major League lead. Only Jered Weaver, Chris Sale and Justin Verlander have a better ERA than Price's 2.64, while he is sixth in strikeouts in the league.

A humble Maddon didn't want to call him the best pitcher in the AL, but he certainly thought he deserved to be part of the discussion.

"Having not seen everybody in a while, I'd say he's in the top two or three, no question," Maddon said. "From purely a selfish respective, I'd say yes. If you're trying to be objective, I'm not quite sure because I haven't seen everybody, but selfishly, I think he is the best right now in the American League."

Maddon also said from what he's seen, he thinks Price is throwing better today than he did in 2010, when he finished second in AL Cy Young voting.

In that season, he went 19-6 with a 2.72 ERA and 188 strikeouts in 208 2/3 innings of work.

"Visually, I think he's pitching better than the year he almost won the Cy Young," Maddon said. "I've been talking about knowing what to do with the tools in the toolbox. He's finally getting to that point where he's pitching more intelligently with better command of everything, picking the right spots to try these other things."

Price tries not to think about it. He knows when his team needs a big win, he's the one the Rays turn to, but he tries not to put any more weight on his left shoulder.

"That just adds pressure to myself, and that's what I'm trying not to do," Price said. "Whether it's game 162 or the first game of the year, I try to treat every game the same and go out there trying to give us a chance to win."

At just 26 years old, Price remains a young asset for a team looking to head to the playoffs for the third straight year. What's scary for the rest of the league is that he may not have reached his full potential.

"From a scout's perspective, we always look for the guy that throws that hard easily or with less effort, and he does," Maddon said. "He's still gonna keep getting better. I don't think he's there yet."

Greg Zeck is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.