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Tampa Bay Rays' David Price still working through struggles

ST. PETERSBURG — This hasn't exactly been the kind of season prized rookie left-hander David Price envisioned for himself.

Not that it has been terrible by any means. But Price, 23, said his expectations for himself far exceed the lofty ones that have followed him since starring in the postseason last fall.

Which is why Price (3-4), set to start tonight against the Royals, knows he can be better than what he has shown so far — the 5.60 ERA, the two quality starts among 11 outings, the 10 earned runs allowed in nine innings since the All-Star break.

The issue isn't health, even though Price admits his velocity was down in his last start.

And it isn't one of confidence, preparation or mechanics.

To the Rays, it's simply the typical growing pains of a young pitcher trying to make adjustments in his first full season in the big leagues and struggles that are magnified under the microscope of playing for the defending American League champions.

"I'm certain he's going to be really, really good," pitching coach Jim Hickey said. "But our expectations were that he would scuffle just like he has and he would be very good at times and that he'd begin to get better and more consistent."

In Price's first four starts, it was an issue of control as he walked 18. Then he started throwing more strikes. But his pitches were seeing too much of the plate, and he gave up 17 hits and 15 runs (10 earned) in his next two. Hickey said it has been more about improving his command lately, throwing the ball where he wants to.

"He just needs to go out there and trust his stuff and not worry about just throwing strikes," fellow starter Scott Kazmir said. "I think you can get in trouble like that; where he's kind of worried about being too fine, trying to hit his spots. And then it's 2-and-0, and he has to throw one down the middle."

Said reliever Joe Nelson: "His stuff is off the charts. But there's more to it than just stuff, and that's what he's finding out; knowing when to make certain pitches."

Price's teammates have been impressed with how he has handled it all, from the expectations to dealing with difficult moments. Nelson said Price's work ethic, intelligence and makeup will accelerate his learning curve.

"Everyone is going to have growing pains. It's unrealistic for anyone, including his teammates and outside (people), to expect him to come in and win 20 games," Nelson said. "Right now, his stuff is there, the makeup is there. He'll battle through it.

"What's hard for outside people to accept is that when you have a bad outing in the minors, it's not national news. When you have a bad outing at the big-league level, you get to watch it every three minutes on SportsCenter and relive it."

Price has lived through some struggles before, especially in his early seasons at Vanderbilt, experiences he has learned from and will help him now.

"I know I'm going to get through this. That's the best thing," Price said. "I've been here before. I've been in this situation. I know I'm going get through it. When I do, it'll be great."'

Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin has seen Price bounce back before, and believes he'll do so again. He records every one of Price's starts and texts his former star four or five times a week, mostly as an "uncle, brother, father" type of support role. Corbin says he has never detected Price being down or in a panic.

"He's a quick-recovery athlete, a guy who if he fails, he comes back the next day," Corbin said. "He's not one of these guys that suffers in misery over a performance. You better have that type of mentality when you're pitching and playing in the big leagues because you're going get knocked on your (butt) a few times.

"Your ability to get back off the canvas is a more valuable tool than anything else you have."

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith @sptimes.com

David Price by the numbers

.314 Batting average of left-handed hitters against him.

3 Walks in his past three starts combined.

3.04 ERA at home compared with 9.23 on the road.

5 Starts in which he has walked five or more.

5.60 ERA for the season.

9.17 Strikeouts per nine innings, fifth among American League pitchers with as many starts.

11 Homers allowed in 11 starts.

19.4 Pitches per inning, second most among American League pitchers with at least 50 innings.

Tampa Bay Rays' David Price still working through struggles 07/30/09 [Last modified: Friday, July 31, 2009 1:19am]

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