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Rays starters focus on quality and quantity of innings

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ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays' greatest concern heading into the season was their starters' ability to make up for the innings lost in the offseason trade that sent James Shields to the Royals.

So far, so good.

Tampa Bay's starters picked up 99 1/3 innings over the club's first 16 games, ranking seventh in the Majors -- and third among teams with 16 or fewer games played. David Price leads the way with 23 innings over four starts, but Alex Cobb has actually had the most success pitching deep into games with 21 1/3 innings in three starts.

"We thought that he was able to do that," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "It's pretty much been a nice pitch-efficient way of getting deep into the game also."

Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson and Roberto Hernandez are also averaging at least six innings per start so far. The only thing that's off track, it would seem, is the quality of those innings. The Rays' rotation's 4.17 ERA going into Saturday ranks 16th in the Majors, a far cry from their Major League-best 3.34 mark in 2012. But Maddon believes they're not far from making those longer outings better across the board.

"The starters have overall done a pretty nice job of getting into the game more deeply. I do believe the quality's really going to show up," Maddon said. "It just seems like we've been off just a little bit on the 'aggressive-ometer' regarding how we've been pitching a little bit. I'd just like to see us be a little bit more aggressive with our fastball and try to dictate more to the other side.

"Because our pitchers are really good. I keep talking about confidence from the hitting side of things. But I think as our pitchers gain more confidence also, you're going to see them start to dominate games like you've seen in the past."

Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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