Price, the top overall pick in the 2007 draft, makes his first major league start for the Rays as they try to move closer to an AL East title Monday night in the opener of a four-game series against the Baltimore Orioles.
A strong rotation is arguably the biggest reason why the Rays (92-62) have gone from perennial last-place team to potential division champion this season. Scott Kazmir, James Shields, Matt Garza, Andy Sonnanstine and Edwin Jackson comprise a formidable starting staff that has helped Tampa Bay rank second in the AL with a 3.78 ERA.
Price (0-0, 3.00 ERA) should become a fixture in that group in the very near future after the Rays made him the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 draft out of Vanderbilt. He was dominant at three minor league levels this season, going 12-1 with a 2.30 ERA.
“That’s something I waited, I guess, 23 years for,” Price said of his first start. “I’m happy it’s finally here.”
This will be the third major league appearance for Price, who made his debut Sept. 14 in relief against the New York Yankees, giving up two runs and three hits in 5 1-3 innings while striking out four. He allowed one hit and recorded both of his outs on strikeouts in Tampa Bay’s 11-8 loss to Minnesota on Thursday.
Rays manager Joe Maddon said he likes the way Baltimore’s hitters match up with Price.
“Just looking at the Orioles, if you look at Price’s record this year, he does nice against left-handed hitters,” Maddon told the Rays’ official Web site.
Tampa Bay enters the season’s final week with a 1 1/2-game lead over Boston in the East following a 4-1 loss to Minnesota on Sunday.
“There’s a lot of good things going on,” reliever Dan Wheeler said. “But it’s not over. We have a goal, and (the playoffs) are the first step.”
The Rays rested several starters Sunday, including shortstop Jason Bartlett, second baseman Akinori Iwamura and catcher Dioner Navarro after they clinched a playoff berth on Saturday. First baseman Carlos Pena was the designated hitter, while center fielder B.J. Upton started for the first time since straining his left quadriceps on Sept. 8.
After four games with the last-place Orioles (67-87), Tampa Bay closes the regular season with four games at Detroit.
“I think our guys will react well the whole week,” Maddon said. “It’s just one game at a time, like it’s been all year.”
Four games against Baltimore should be coming at the perfect time for the Rays, who have won eight straight and 11 of 14 meetings this season. Tampa Bay has outscored Baltimore 64-27 during the eight-game win streak.
Pena is batting .333 (16-for-48) with five homers and 23 RBIs in 14 games this season against the Orioles.
Baltimore hasn’t done a very good job in the spoiler role, losing five straight and 22 of its last 27 games.
Brian Bass (3-4, 5.15) makes his third start of the season for the Orioles. The right-hander was recently thrust into Baltimore’s tattered rotation, failing to record a decision in his first two starts. He gave up five runs and seven hits over 4 1-3 innings at Toronto on Wednesday as the Orioles squandered a six-run lead in an 8-7 loss.
This will be his first career start and second appearance against Tampa Bay.