ST. PETERSBURG — There may not be a better pitching matchup than the one at Tropicana Field tonight between Rays All-Star LHP David Price and Rangers ace LHP Cliff Lee.
Price leads the American League with 15 wins, and Rays manager Joe Maddon said Lee, a former Cy Young Award winner "might be the best pitcher out there right now."
"The combination of stuff and command and his ability to pitch really deep into games, you're talking about (Roy) Halladay, too, but this guy is pretty unparalleled right now," Maddon said.
Maddon said though both have similar arsenals, what separates them is command. Lee has allowed just nine walks in 1611/3 innings, Price 59 in 1452/3.
Lee "doesn't walk anybody, and he can throw any pitch at any time," said Rays C Kelly Shoppach, who caught Lee in Cleveland. "He's a competitor. … He expects to throw a shutout every time he goes out. He's got everything you want in a pitcher."
Price said that when you're opposing Lee, "you've got to come with your 'A' game." It's also hard to outlast Lee, who has gone at least eight innings in 15 of his 20 starts.
Maddon has said as Price continues to gain fastball command, the "sky is the limit." Referring to Lee, Maddon said, "That's what the sky looks like right there."
MEDICAL MATTERS: 1B Carlos Peña (right plantar fascia sprain), who went 2-for-3 for Class A Charlotte on Sunday, is expected to be activated from the disabled list today and in the lineup against the Rangers.
Maddon said RHPs Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis, both on the DL with right shoulder strains, will throw bullpen sessions today, and how they respond could determine when they'll be able to rejoin the rotation. Both are expected to return when the upcoming West Coast trip hits Anaheim, Aug. 23-25.
They played catch Sunday, with Niemann saying his arm felt good, and today's session will be about working on his pitches.
"I'm just trying to get my stuff back and figure out where everything is at, the breaking stuff and offspeed and all that," Niemann said. "I'm just trying to fine-tune that and get back out there."
Maddon said RHP Grant Balfour (intercostal strain) has been progressing well and is on target for a September return, about six weeks from when he was put on the DL (July 31).
DRAFT BREEZE: The Rays remain "very hopeful" of signing top draft choice OF Josh Sale and supplemental round pick OF Drew Vettleson before tonight's midnight deadline, scouting director R.J. Harrison said. And, for what it's worth, both players have posts on their Facebook pages that they were headed to Florida on Sunday. Sixth-round pick RHP Jesse Hahn signed, with Baseball America reporting a $525,000 bonus, more than triple MLB's recommended amount for higher than fifth-round picks.
NO REGRETS: Maddon said he wasn't necessarily surprised by the recent resurgence of former DH Pat Burrell, who is batting .285 with 10 homers in 165 at-bats with the Giants.
Maddon said he often thought that if Burrell got a chance to play defense on a consistent basis, it might help. But that doesn't mean Maddon is second-guessing how the Rays used Burrell in his disappointing season-and-a-half stint.
"He came here under a specific reason to be our DH, and that's how we set it up, and we had everything else covered in other ways," Maddon said. "It just didn't want to work out for him that way here, but it's working out for him that way there. I'm happy for him."
MISCELLANY: Since June 23, Ben Zobrist's 38 walks lead the majors. … LHP Brian Shouse, in his first appearance for Triple-A Durham, gave up four runs on six hits in two innings Saturday. … CF B.J. Upton will visit Childs Park (11:30 a.m.) and Wildwood (12:30 p.m.) Recreation Centers today in St. Petersburg as part of B.J.'s Bunch.