PORT CHARLOTTE — The fact that left-hander David Price was officially named the Rays' opening day starter Tuesday surprised no one.
After all, Price is the reigning AL Cy Young runnerup who won 19 games last season and started the All-Star Game. Still, Price was honored, saying it's "pretty big," and hopes it's the first of many.
And right-hander James Shields, who started the past three openers, was the first to congratulate Price, saying it was well-deserved.
"I want to be No. 1, there's no doubt, everybody does," Shields said. "But (Price) earned it, just like I earned it, when I got it. I'm happy for him. This guy had an unbelievable year last year. He's one of the best pitchers in the game."
Manager Joe Maddon said tabbing Price, 25, for the April 1 opener against the Orioles was an easy decision, "the right thing to do," based on what he accomplished last season. Shields will pitch next, with Maddon still sorting out how to slot right-handers Wade Davis, Jeff Niemann and Jeremy Hellickson.
But no matter how the rotation is lined up, Maddon feels fortunate to have a starting five so young, talented and durable, a big reason why the Rays feel they can compete with the best in the American League East.
"You have to have that in order to be good, you have to have a very good starting rotation," Maddon said. "A lot of teams might have three guys they like, some may have four. But to have five that you like is very unusual. …
"There's a comfort knowing that every night you put your starting pitching vs. theirs, you've got a pretty good chance of winning tonight."
Said third baseman Evan Longoria: "I'd match them up against anybody."
It starts with Price (19-6, 2.70 ERA last season), the ace, who said this spring he wants to be "the best pitcher in baseball, period." And though he said it wouldn't matter to him if he started the first or fifth day, he appreciated the opportunity. "Only one guy gets it off each staff each year, so it's a very big honor," he said.
There's the elder statesman/leader in Shields, 29, a workhorse who became the first Ray to pitch 200 or more innings in four consecutive seasons. He didn't have the kind of season he wanted in 2010, with career highs in ERA (5.18) and homers (34), but Maddon feels he's primed for a bounceback year.
Then there's "the three silent partners," as Maddon calls Niemann, Davis and Hellickson. "They're all pretty much cut from the same non-verbal cloth, they show up and do their job," Maddon said. "They don't even want to attract any attention to themselves and they like it."
Maddon said the fact all five starters were drafted by the Rays and came up in their system is unique, as is the fact that they all can throw some pretty good curveballs. The goal of them combining for 1,000 innings is attainable, with veteran Johnny Damon saying they have some special potential.
"It's something that you're hoping you can look back and say, 'Wow,' " Damon said. "You've got five guys going out there that are all good, and you want them to be put in that class that, say, the Phillies are right now or what Boston has right now, what the Braves had. It's exciting."