PORT CHARLOTTE — There were still 20 days and three more spring starts until the March 31 season opener when Rays ace LHP David Price walked off the mound Tuesday afternoon, but he couldn't look more ready.
Price dazzled in five innings and 75 pitches in the 7-1 win over the Twins, allowing a run on a Jason Kubel homer and two singles, walking one and hitting one while striking out eight, including All-Star Joe Mauer.
"I don't think he could look any better right now," manager Joe Maddon said. "I think it's impossible."
Price was in command and control, pleased with his velocity and execution of all pitches, especially his curveball.
"At this point everything feels really good and I feel like I'm right in line with where I need to be," Price said. "It's definitely a good feeling. I definitely haven't felt this good in spring training since 2009, 2010, somewhere along those lines. It's definitely been a while. It feels good to feel this good at this point in spring training, but we're still a couple weeks away, and that's when it matters."
BALFOUR RESTED: RHP Grant Balfour's next outing was pushed back from Tuesday until today — and shifted to a minor-league game — after he said he felt like he was in a "dead arm" period while pitching Saturday.
"There's nothing wrong," Maddon said. "It's just one of those moments in camp, just move him back an extra day."
MEDICAL MATTERS: OF David DeJesus returned to action with two hits after missing a week with right side soreness. … 2B Ben Zobrist, who was scratched from Saturday's lineup with a stiff neck, is scheduled to DH today vs. the Blue Jays. … RHP Joel Peralta, who left Saturday's game with a stiff neck, is set to pitch in a minor-league game in Port Charlotte.
PITCHING IN: Rookie RHP Nathan Karns, the fourth candidate for the No. 5 slot in the rotation, gets a chance to impress in making the start today in Dunedin. "I want to get out there and improve what I've been working on and just enjoy the opportunity," he said.
Karns is starting because the Rays didn't want RHP Alex Cobb to face the Jays for a second time this spring, since he'll pitch against them in the season-opening series. Cobb will pitch in a minor-league game in Port Charlotte, along with Balfour and Peralta.
ROSTER REDUCTION: C Curt Casali and Ps Santiago Garrido, Braulio Lara and Sam Runion were reassigned to minor-league camp, cutting the roster to 52 (including yet-to-report RHP Juan Carlos Oviedo).
Maddon said was "really impressed" with what he saw of Casali, who was acquired last spring from Detroit and is likely headed to Double-A Montgomery: "This guy's a big-league catcher. He's going to help us."
Maddon said he expected Oviedo to have resolved his visa issues and be in camp by now. But since the reliever has been throwing regularly in the Dominican Republic, Maddon wasn't ready to give up on him being on the opening day roster.
"We're not there yet," Maddon said. "I'm at the intersection of 'I'm okay with this' and 'Let's get this thing going.' … I'm still counting on Oviedo to be here and be ready."
GAME DETAILS: SS Yunel Esocbar and DeJesus knocked in runs in the second as the Rays (6-3-2) took a 2-1 lead and built on. … 1B James Loney had two hits. … RHP Brandon Gomes, battling for a bullpen spot, had his fourth scoreless outing. … Maddon said it was "encouraging" to see LHP Jake McGee again throw good curveballs, a pitch he is working to add to his repertoire. … Non-roster OF Jerry Sands rapped his sixth extra-base hit, raising his average to .421, and non-roster OF Jeremy Moore, coming back from a hip injury, hit his second homer.