FORT MYERS — For only pitching two innings, top draft pick LHP David Price made quite an impression on the Rays. So even as Price was optioned to the minors Tuesday, manager Joe Maddon spoke about his path back to the big leagues.
"A unique young man, just like we'd heard, and unique abilities, just like we heard," Maddon said. "Just go back down there and return as quickly as possible."
Price, who worked a 1-2-3 ninth in the 7-1 win over the Twins, impressed the Rays with what he did (especially the ability to throw low strikes) and how he did it, showing poise and maturity.
Price harbored dreams of jumping straight to the majors but had to know the demotion was a matter of time. "It's fine," he said. "They came into this thing with a plan, and they're going to stick to it. That's what happens."
The Rays didn't say where Price was headed, deciding between advanced Class A Vero Beach and Double-A Montgomery.
Also optioned to the minors were RHP Jae Kuk Ryu, who showed an improved curveball, and OF Justin Ruggiano. Ruggiano was a bit surprising because the Rays need an extra outfielder to replace Rocco Baldelli, but Maddon indicated left-handed hitting John Rodriguez and Jon Weber, both minor-league veterans, would be a better fit for reserve duty than a prospect such as Ruggiano.
SHIELDS IMPRESSIVE: RHP James Shields went five scoreless innings, throwing just 49 pitches. The 26-year-old mixed in his first curveballs of the season, which were sharp. Just ask Twins OF Delmon Young. After Shields used a curve to get Young to ground meekly to first in the fourth, the buddies and California natives had a quick exchange.
"I didn't know you had that much bite on your curveball," Young told him.
ZOBRIST BACK FOR OPENER?: Ben Zobrist will have a clunky cast on his fractured left thumb for at least the next two weeks but thinks he will be out less than the month the Rays projected and expects to be active for the March 31 opener.
"I'm not going to say four weeks, I'm going to say two. Because as soon as this thing gets off, I'm going to see what I can do," Zobrist said. "Four weeks to me — I'm ready opening day. I'm ready. That's the way I'm thinking. And I'm fully ready, I'm not just, I feel like I can play 80-90 percent. I'm 100 percent opening day."
Zobrist, who was being groomed as a super utilityman, will continue to do baseball drills (perhaps even taking fly balls with a glove on his right hand) and learning the responsibilities and fundamentals of different positions.
In the interim, Andy Cannizaro is likely to get an extended look as a utility infielder and said he welcomed the opportunity.
WELCOME BACK, DELMON: Young greeted some former Rays teammates with hugs Tuesday morning before he played in his first game against his former club since getting traded in December. Young didn't want to talk about the "past," but he has enjoyed a fresh start with Minnesota. Young, who is hitting .409 this spring, went 0-for-3. "It was good seeing those guys," Young said. "I hope they do well this season."
YANKS REVENGE?: According to the travel squad posted in the Yankees clubhouse Tuesday morning, they are not bringing their two biggest stars for today's game in St. Petersburg, with both SS Derek Jeter and 3B Alex Rodriguez scheduled to stay in Tampa. INF Shelley Duncan, who made some veiled threats about turning up the intensity today, is scheduled to come. The game is sold out.
MISCELLANY: Rays INF Elliot Johnson, whose collision at the plate sparked the weekend controversy, is not scheduled to play. … 3B Evan Longoria hit a homer off Twins reliever Juan Rincon in the eighth (his first), carrying off the scoreboard in left-center.
Times staff writer Marc Topkin contributed to this report. Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.