ST. PETERSBURG — LHP David Price hopes tonight's start against the Orioles isn't his last of the regular season.
But it likely will be, at least his last real one. Manager Joe Maddon said that with the Rays expected to be in the playoffs, Price won't make his next scheduled start (the season finale Sunday in Kansas City) even if the American League East is on the line.
Maddon said they'd pitch somebody else and get Price ready for the ALDS Game 1 three days later on Oct. 6. That scenario would give Price seven days of rest before his first postseason start.
"I'd rather not do it like that, but I know it might be the case," Price said. "I really don't want too much (rest), but we'll see how it goes."
Maddon said they haven't decided how they would keep Price fresh in between but acknowledged "something would change." One option is that Price could start Sunday's game in Kansas City but only pitch an inning or two. Or Price could do more extensive side throwing during the week (a simulated game, for example).
Maddon said the Rays have a good idea on the four starting pitchers they would use in the first round of the playoffs, but "there's still different things I want to see" the rest of this week. Maddon said part of picking the rotation is about the research they have, how certain pitchers do against the particular opponent.
"Probably, we know who the four guys are," Maddon said. "But then putting them in the right order is the next part of it."
MEDICAL MATTERS: 3B Evan Longoria made another positive step Monday in recovering from a strained left quad but may still miss the entire Orioles series. He said he was feeling good after taking swings off a tee in the cage and playing catch on the field Monday. Maddon said Longoria is still probably a couple days away from returning to the lineup, targeting the series in Kansas City from Thursday through Sunday.
"I really don't want to push it," Maddon said. "If he's able to start playing once we get to Kansas City, I'll be happy."
Said Longoria: "We're in a pretty good spot as a team. … So as long as it takes me to get as healthy as I can for the playoffs, that's what I'm going to do."
TOLD YOU SO: RHP Joaquin Benoit has been one of the Rays' biggest surprises this season and should get some votes for MLB's comeback player of the year. Count Orioles manager Buck Showalter as one who saw it coming.
Benoit, who missed all of last season with a torn rotator cuff, pitched a perfect ninth Monday and has a 1.39 ERA (best among AL relievers) and 72 strikeouts in 581/3 innings. Showalter, who managed Benoit in Texas from 2003-06, isn't surprised.
"I hate to say, 'I told you so,' " Showalter said. "I knew that Benoit, when he got healthy, that was a great signing."
HOT CORNER: Maddon said Dan Johnson made his second big-league start at third base Monday night against Orioles LHP Brian Matusz for a couple reasons: He wanted to see how Johnson does defensively there; and the left-handed hitter has similar numbers in his career against left-handed starters (.247) as right-handers (.245). Maddon said he could have gone a different route had the Rays felt comfortable putting OF Rocco Baldelli in rightfield for the second straight game, but they weren't quite ready to do that.
MISCELLANY: Showalter served his one-game suspension Monday from Major League Baseball due to RHP Alfredo Simon intentionally throwing at Blue Jays RF Jose Bautista on Sunday. Bench coach Jeff Datz managed in Showalter's place. Showalter said he'd watch the game from the visiting general manager's suite and quipped, "I think the further away I get from it, the better chance we have." … Rays SS Jason Bartlett extended his hitting streak to eight games with a first-inning single Monday. He is batting .448 (13-for-29) in that stretch.