ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays began the day with a brief meeting, sparked by Carlos Peña and B.J. Upton, an attempt to get them out of their midseason slump.
They entered Friday having lost four straight and had fallen to fourth place in the American League East. But Ben Zobrist said the confidence-building talk was a reminder that "we're a good team."
"Some of the guys wanted to address that fact that we're better than this," Zobrist said. "You just need that reinforcement."
The Rays then showed it on the field with a high level of energy and execution in a 4-2 victory over the Tigers in front of 19,557 at Tropicana Field. It had all of Tampa Bay's staples: stellar starting pitching from David Price, dazzling defense and a dynamic Desmond Jennings atop the order.
"It looked like we're supposed to look," manager Joe Maddon said.
Jennings stole the show with a catch and tumble into the leftfield stands in foul territory in the third and two solo homers off reigning Cy Young winner and AL MVP Justin Verlander, who entered 3-0 with a 2.10 ERA over his past four starts.
"It gives us a lot of confidence," Jennings said, "and makes us feel good about ourselves."
The win for the Rays (41-36) was slightly dampened by Price having to leave before the top of the eighth due to lower-back tightness.
Price said he first felt it in the top of the seventh and tried to loosen it up with a heating pad between innings. Though Price believed he could pitch through it, he took himself out as a precaution and is confident he won't miss a start.
"I'll be pitching in five days," he said.
Price's pitching, two runs over seven innings (on 78 pitches), set the tone. He got plenty of help from his defense, including three inning-ending double plays in the first five innings and a bare-handed play by third baseman Brooks Conrad to throw out Prince Fielder in the second.
Then there was Jennings, who ended the top of the third by racing to his right into the bullpen and flipping headfirst into the stands after catching a Quintin Berry fly ball.
"I knew it probably wasn't going to be pretty," Jennings said. "But I just concentrated on the ball."
Jennings then led off the bottom half with a solo homer to left, one of two in the game for the speedy leadoff hitter. He became just the fourth player to homer twice off Verlander in the same game, joining Shelley Duncan and Carlos Quentin in 2011 and Nick Swisher in 2006.
It was an encouraging day for Jennings, who has struggled since coming off the disabled list June 5 but is feeling more comfortable by the day.
"I felt like I hadn't got a hit in a month," he said. "I got into fastball counts and put a good swing on a couple balls."
That was more than enough for Price (11-4), who had fastball command in rolling through seven innings.
"David was fantastic," Maddon said. "It all started with David."
But Maddon said whenever a pitcher tells him his back is not feeling right, "he's out of the game."
Maddon didn't appear overly concerned with Price, saying he's hopeful the pitcher can make his next start, as Price suggests. Price recalled how Angels ace Jered Weaver recently landed on the disabled list with a similar injury, and he wanted to avoid the same fate.
"It's just something I want to be careful with," Price said. "I'll be fine."
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected] Get the latest on the Rays at blogs.tampabay.com/rays.