ST. PETERSBURG — LHP David Price, the Rays' minor-league pitcher of the year, will make his first major-league start tonight in Baltimore, completing the journey from Class A to the big leagues in one season.
"That's huge," the first overall selection in the 2007 draft said. "It shows the team has a lot of trust in me to give me that. Although we have already clinched a playoff spot, we want to win the AL East."
Price, 23, hasn't pitched since a relief appearance Thursday, when he struck out two batters but allowed two runners inherited from James Shields to score in an eventual 11-8 loss to the Twins. He said pitching in relief was physically no different than starting. Mentally, different matter.
"I saw that (Joe Mauer) ground ball go through the middle and I saw both of those runners cross the plate and I felt like somebody had just shot my dog. It was terrible," he said. "It's never that bad when you give up your own runs."
ROTATION: Rookie RHP Mitch Talbot will make his first big-league start in the second game of a doubleheader against the Orioles on Tuesday. RHP Matt Garza, who pitched on three days' rest against Boston on Wednesday, will skip a start and go again in his normal slot on Saturday in Detroit.
Price and Talbot will be allowed to throw about 100 pitches, and they see every one of them as a chance to earn a spot on the playoff roster.
"It's kind of like a tryout," Talbot, 24, said, "but you've got to treat it like any other game or you're going to go out there and get hit."
CAUTIOUS COMEBACK: The Rays got one injured outfielder back when B.J. Upton pinch hit on Saturday, and on Sunday he went 3-for-3 with a bunt hit, double, walk and outfield assist while starting in centerfield for the first time since Sept. 8.
"The timing's still off a little, but it's getting better," Upton said.
LF Carl Crawford remains guarded, however, in assessing his return from a tendon injury that has cost him 37 games. He said he hopes to convince doctors to let him soon swing a bat, but he understands "if it pops again it could be career-ending." Crawford thinks he could be available to pinch run and play defense in time for the American League Division Series.
"There's still pain in it," he said of the right middle finger. "I think it's going to be pain in it from here on out, so I just need to start swinging. If I can ever get cleared to start swinging a bat, then I can start the process of dealing with the pain."
PERCIVAL OUT: Closer Troy Percival, who has recently battled lower back issues, said he will have his second epidural injection Tuesday and not rejoin the team until Wednesday in Baltimore.
Percival, 39, said he felt "a little fatigued" after pitching on back-to-back days for the first time since Sept. 9-10, when he left an outing in Boston with back tightness. The right-hander on Sunday pitched a scoreless eighth, walking two with two outs before getting Carlos Gomez to ground out.
He said his back is "pretty beat up" after he appeared in three games in four nights, but he was encouraged with how well he felt after his last injection.
"I kind of feel like I'm going through another spring training, trying to get all my core muscles working, trying to get my arm strength back up," Percival said. "I go from 92-93 (mph) and today I could have thrown harder, but I just wanted to throw the ball over the plate."
RAYS BITS: 3B Evan Longoria, whose .970 fielding percentage ranked second in the AL, had his first multi-error game on two throws. He has 11 errors this season. … 1B Carlos Pena is one RBI from becoming the third Ray to reach 100 in a season (Aubrey Huff, 2003-04, and Fred Mc-Griff, 1999-2000).
Times staff writer Joe Smith contributed to this report.