Monday, January 22, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Grant Balfour fan comments scrutinized

ST. PETERSBURG — Manager Joe Maddon said he spoke with RHP Grant Balfour about the critical comments the reliever made about fans after Thursday's 5-2 win over the A's in 11 innings.

But Maddon said the reason Balfour didn't pitch Friday against the Red Sox wasn't punitive. Balfour, who had thrown 51 combined pitches the previous two nights, was a little sore and needed the day off. "I'll be ready to go (today)," he said.

Balfour appeared irked Thursday night after fans booed him following his blown save, saying, "You can't be back and forth like that." The comments were picked up by espn.com and MLB Network. Maddon said though he didn't necessarily agree, he's all for "freedom of speech" and would "never try to muzzle any of our guys."

Balfour clarified his comments Friday, saying they were meant as a positive thing: "The fans are a big part of what we're doing, they're part of the team" and "we're all in it together."

"Trying to get a good vibe from it," Balfour said. "Not trying to tell people what they can and can't do.

price check: Few pitchers have commanded the strike zone this season better than LHP David Price.

Price enters today's start against the Red Sox with a majors-leading strikeout/walk ratio of 12.83 (77 strikeouts, six walks). But after giving up 11 hits in his last outing in Anaheim, when he tossed 87 strikes, it was asked if Price might be throwing too many strikes.

"Could be, absolutely," Price said. "These guys know I'm throwing the ball over the plate, and they want to go up there and hit it."

Maddon lauded Price for his ability to throw strikes when he wants to, saying it's a mark of an elite pitcher. But Price also has given up 11 homers this season, third most in the majors, over 691/3 innings.

"Giving up hits is never something I feel like a pitcher really gets used to," Price said. "And it's something I've done a lot this year. I definitely take pride in commanding the strike zone, and I feel like I've done a very good job at that this year. I just need to pick my spots more, when to throw a strike."

SAME OLD OVIEDO: Instead of Balfour, RHP Juan Carlos Oviedo pitched the ninth in the 1-0 win, picking up his first win since Aug. 1, 2011. Oviedo continued his triumphant return from Tommy John surgery, having not allowed a run in May (112/3 innings), dropping his ERA to 1.72.

Oviedo admitted he didn't know how it'd go after the surgery, having not pitched in a big-league game since Sept. 21, 2011. "I feel good now. I'm doing things the way I used to," Oviedo said through interpreter George Pappas. "I feel good competing, and to be here again makes me pretty happy. I'm the same pitcher I was before."

Oviedo's velocity gradually has increased to 95 mph. Maddon said his changeup has been outstanding.

"By season's end, he'll be quite a force here," Maddon said.

EASING IN: C Ryan Hani­gan is still not 100 percent from the right calf strain/cramp that sidelined him last weekend, Maddon said. So Maddon is not comfortable starting him in back-to-back games.

IN THE SWING: Maddon said 3B Evan Longoria's 11th-inning single Thursday was significant in him snapping out of his struggles (.251 average, four homers, 22 RBIs entering Friday). And Longoria, batting second for the third straight game, was 3-for-4 Friday.

MISCELLANY: RHP Joel Peralta made his 250th Rays appearance Friday, tying RHP Dan Wheeler's club record. Wheeler did his in seven seasons; Peralta is in his fourth … Luis Tiant, who pitched in the majors from 1964-82, will sign autographs today and Sunday at the Ted Williams Museum from the time gates open until first pitch. … Rays wives will host a spring cleaning drive to benefit Pet Pal Animal Shelter from 2-5 p.m. today in Lot 7 (outside the Gate 1 rotunda).

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