"My legs, they were shaking," Price said. "It felt like the first Spring Training outing or the first game of the year, it feels like you're pitching in the postseason with those jitters. It was good to have that feeling back, because I haven't had it in a long time."
Those butterflies faded, and the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner, on the disabled list since May 16 with a left triceps strain, said he felt "great" after his first Minor League rehab start on Friday for Class A Advanced Charlotte at McKechnie Field.
Wearing a No. 40 jersey rather than his usual No. 14, Price allowed two runs (one earned) on two hits and two walks while striking out four over 2 1/3 innings against the Bradenton Marauders. He threw 49 pitches, 29 of them for strikes.
"That was the biggest thing, getting out there and facing opposing hitters, hearing the walkup song, hearing the PA announce the hitter. It's all new to me," Price said. "It's been 5 1/2, six weeks. It feels good to get back out there and work on my craft in a game environment. I'll take it."
Price, who left his May 15 start early due to injury, doesn't know what the next step in his recovery will be. He should make at least one more rehab start, possibly two, before returning to the Rays' rotation at some point before the All-Star break.
Price said he felt better after Friday's outing than he has at any point this year, but he still made sure not to overdo anything on the mound. His rehab schedule was pushed back a few days after he overexerted himself in a simulated game last week and, as a result, felt some additional soreness afterward. To make sure he was fully recovered, he threw an additional bullpen on Tuesday.
Price threw 41 pitches in his first two innings on Friday, but wanted to get used to the feeling of sitting down and getting back in a game, so he came out to face two batters in the third, giving up a single and inducing a groundout before tipping his cap and waving to the crowd as he left to a small ovation. The inherited runner went on to score the only earned run charged to Price, but he was more encouraged with how his arm felt than how his final line looked.
"I felt good," Price said. "I definitely felt like I had more in the tank that I could've used."
But he also wants to get back to the Rays, rejoin the rotation and improve a pitching staff that has gone through some uncharacteristic struggles this season. That includes Price, who was 1-4 with a 5.24 ERA in nine starts before the injury.
And when, ideally, would he like to be back in his No. 14 jersey facing Major League hitters?
"Uh, four days from now?" Price said, smiling. "That's my day."