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Tampa Bay Rays' David Price says stuff is strong, control lags

TORONTO — LHP David Price has had one decent start this season and one poor one. But as he takes the mound in Toronto tonight, he insists he is equipped for success.

"Honestly," he said, "my stuff right now is better than it's ever been in my entire life. My fastball velocity, my changeup, my curveball. Everything feels good. I've got to get it together, put it together."

Price, who lasted three innings vs. a patient Boston lineup Friday, insists the solution is simple: "I've got to throw more strikes."

There's something to that, as in his win over the Yankees and loss to the Red Sox Price has thrown only 56.3 percent of his pitches (83 of 190) for strikes (and balls hit).

But manager Joe Maddon said there is a little more to it, specifically Price — in his fourth year in the rotation — learning to make better use of his arsenal, especially his fastball.

"We're doing the under-the-hood work regarding pitches, pitch selection, that kind of thing," Maddon said. "With him, it's still about being able to put together all these different pitches that he's throwing and doing an efficient job with it. Because I really believe he's a better pitcher with a better delivery, better strike-throwing ability than he was two years ago (when he was 19-6, 2.72). With no doubt."

LEFTY ON LEFTY: Maddon seemed to be going unconventional by starting four lefty hitters against Jays LHP Ricky Romero, but he said their intel is that Romero is a "reverse-split" pitcher, meaning lefties do better, and if he could he would have started nine lefties.

Romero didn't take it well: "I really don't care what he has to say or what his mind-set is against me. If he has nine lefties against me, I'll find a way to win and that's just the bottom line. Obviously there have been days where those guys have been successful against me from the left side and there have been those days where I've come out on top. He can do whatever he wants, I'm not worried about that, I just go out there and pitch."

UPTON UPDATE: CF B.J. Upton (lower back soreness) is "really, really close" to completing his rehab, Maddon said, but a Tuesday rainout in Montgomery, Ala., will seemingly push his return to the Rays back until Friday.

Maddon had said before Tuesday's game that it was "not out of the question" Upton could come to Toronto. But he is now scheduled to play both games of the Biscuits doubleheader today, centerfield in the opener, DH in the nightcap, making the "probably" Friday return more likely.

The Rays are as concerned about Upton being physically ready (running, playing on turf) as his actual baseball skills. And Maddon acknowledged that Upton may struggle initially as he hasn't seen major-league pitching in more than a month.

MR. EVERYTHING: RHP Brandon Gomes made an impressive return to the bullpen, with Maddon planning to use him in assorted roles, from long relief to late-inning work. "He's kind of a utility relief pitcher," Maddon said. Gomes was sent to Triple A at the end of spring training to work his way back into top form following offseason back surgery. After five appearances at Durham (no runs, two hits), he said it was clearly the right decision. "I needed it," he said.

DRAFT BREEZE: After having 12 of the first 89 picks in last year's draft, due to multiple compensation picks from free-agent departures, the Rays will have only two in the top 100: 25th and 88th.

MISCELLANY: Rookie Stephen Vogt popped out as a pinch-hitter in the seventh, breaking the team record with 13 hitless at-bats at the start of a career. He had been tied with RHP Jeff Niemann. … Monday was the first 1-0 game decided by a bases-loaded walk since May 1, 2009, Dodgers over Padres, and the first won by the Rays.

Tampa Bay Rays' David Price says stuff is strong, control lags 04/17/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 18, 2012 11:14am]

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