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Easy to envision stardom for Tampa Bay Rays' David Price

ST. PETERSBURG

The kid throws a fastball, and it arrives before your next heartbeat. As quickly as that, you can see tomorrow.

David Price stands upon a mound, tall and regal, and every pitch seems like a promise. He grips a ball, and you swear you can see stardom over his left shoulder. He turns it loose, and you have to remind yourself that his journey has just begun.

More than speed, more than movement, this is the true measure of a young pitcher's ability. On a great night, he leaves you wondering how much greater he might become.

Price won his first regular-season game for the Rays on Saturday.

Does anyone want to guess how many more are to come?

Even if you want to talk about Price in the present tense, he was impressive enough in a 5-2 victory over the Twins. Consider this: Of the 17 outs Price recorded, 11 of them were by strikeout. There were moments when Price's 96 mph fastball left batters looking helpless.

By the time Price left, tipping his cap to a standing ovation, he had been dominant enough to remind everyone of his potential.

Oh, no one has ever questioned Price's stuff, but so far, his 2009 hadn't exactly been golden. He struggled with his fastball command in his first major-league start this season, getting only 10 outs before being pulled. Even in his eight minor-league appearances, Price was unable to get beyond the fifth inning of any game.

Against the Twins, however, Price was terrific. Once again, he was the same dominant pitcher who shined in the postseason in October. Once again, his fastball snapped the mitt with enough velocity to make you smell bacon frying.

"When he pitches, you can see the future," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "It's a good future. Fifteen-20 wins every year, maybe a few awards down the line. Mentally, I see him at 26-27 years old, and that could be extremely special."

On a night like this, you could see it, too. Strikeouts and shutouts. No-hitters and 20-win seasons. Cy Youngs and All-Star Games. Price has a ways to go, but that's the potential of his left arm.

None of this is new to Price. For every pitch he has thrown, there have been expectations thrown at him. He's used to it.

"My expectations far exceed that of any fan or any coach," Price said after the game. "This is for myself. If I throw 30 games, I expect 30 perfect games. Those are my expectations. I realize that isn't realistic, but that's the way I go about my business. No one else is going to have expectations for me that will come anywhere close to my expectations."

For the Rays, all this looking ahead stuff used to be fairly routine. The Rays were always talking about tomorrow.

This year, for the first time, they have been a team that can't get away from comparisons to the past (read: last year). In a way, thinking about the years to come was probably a bit of a relief.

Put it this way: The only player Price had trouble throwing to Saturday was teammate Carlos Peña, his first baseman. In the second inning, he lobbed one about 5 feet over Peña's head on a grounder back to the mound. Who knows? Perhaps he was trying to draw an infield fly rule.

"It was the most unathletic play I think I've ever done," Price said.

An inning later, Price fielded a bunt from Denard Span and threw it low. Hey, things could be worse. Peña could be the team's catcher.

Overall, however, how can you quibble with a pitcher who struck out two batters in each of the first five innings?

"(Twins players) said they barely saw the ball their first at-bats," shortstop Ben Zobrist said. "It took their first at-bats to even see it at all."

"He's one of one those guys who I'd trade places with if I could," Twins manager Rod Gardenhire said.

Know this: Price is a long way from the finished product. He still needs to stay on top of his fastball command. His slider has to get better. Maybe his changeup.

"If he can develop a third pitch," former Twins pitcher Frank Viola was saying in the Minnesota clubhouse, "he's going to be devastating. He threw 96 mph on his 108th pitch."

That's part of the fun, too. Maddon raves about Price's makeup and his maturity. Eventually, you get the feeling he'll harness his potential.

There is more to come. More strikeouts. More standing ovations from the crowd. More victories.

Stay tuned, won't you?

Easy to envision stardom for Tampa Bay Rays' David Price 05/30/09 [Last modified: Saturday, May 30, 2009 11:41pm]
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