ST. PETERSBURG — Left-hander David Price has put up impressive performances already this season in tying teammate James Shields for the American League lead with five wins, including a complete-game shutout against the Angels.
But Price said he had never felt or pitched better than he did in Friday's 7-2 win over the Athletics in front of 18,799 at Tropicana Field. With his fastball command the best it has been all year, Price struck out 12, including every hitter in Oakland's lineup, and allowed three hits over eight innings.
"He was fantastic," manager Joe Maddon said.
Price has won four straight starts, and the best-in-the-majors Rays (19-8) are winners of their past six and 12 of 13. Tampa Bay tied a major-league record with a 13-1 home record to start the year.
"The last three starts is as good as I've seen Price," rightfielder Matt Joyce said. "He's throwing the ball wherever he wants to throw it and is confident in everything he's throwing. If you throw those in one bag, it's a bag full of trouble with a guy that's throwing 97 (miles per hour)."
Price (5-1, 2.35 ERA) could tell from his pregame bullpen time he felt good, and it showed in an 106-pitch outing.
"Electric stuff," said ex-Ray Jonny Gomes, who had two hits. "When I left in 2008, he was just rearing back and chucking. … He looked pretty good. Twelve strikeouts, one walk. Pretty much speaks for itself."
Maddon said he can see Price's confidence re-emerging and a big difference is the pitcher has become a better strike-thrower. Maddon believes the 26-year-old is still learning his craft in terms of "court awareness," how to use all his weapons in certain situations.
"And heads up when he does," Maddon said.
The Rays gave Price plenty of support, taking the lead with a three-run second. Maddon credited the Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce with an assist in helping pick the lineup by suggesting putting outfielder B.J. Upton in the second spot for the first time this year. Upton responded with two RBI doubles. Designated hitter Luke Scott added a two-run single and Molina his first homer of the year, a two-run shot that made it 5-1 in the fourth.
The biggest defensive play came in the top of the third from Joyce, who made a diving catch near the rightfield foul line, sliding into the wall as he robbed Jemile Weeks of extra bases.
"I thought I had a chance," Joyce said. "I was getting closer and closer to the wall. I figured I'd go for it. Fortunately, I caught it. It always hurts less when you catch it."
Maddon saw growth moments in Price, including in the eighth, when after falling behind 2-and-0 to Kila Ka-aihue, the two-time All-Star stepped off the mound, took a breath, refocused and struck out the first baseman in three pitches.
"That's the kind of stuff I love to see out of him," Maddon said.
Price said he has used visualization since his days at Vanderbilt but Maddon pointed out to him after his three-inning loss in Boston on April 13 that he wasn't doing it as much as previous seasons. Price hasn't lost since.
"I like where I'm at personally, and I'm getting in a groove," Price said. "It's starting to roll pretty good right now."