DENVER — David Price's problem in his first four starts was a surprising inability to throw strikes. The pitches that were in the zone were dazzling but too many missed, and he would pitch himself out of games despite not allowing much damage.
Wednesday night, the rookie left-hander showed marked improvement in throwing the ball over the plate, working a career-high seven innings without a walk. But this time he left a few too many where the Rockies could reach them in a 5-3 loss that snapped the Rays' six-game winning streak.
"Just the complete opposite side of the spectrum," Price said. "I walk a ton of guys and I give up one and go 41/3 or something. Then I don't walk anyone and I give up five. (But) I didn't beat myself tonight, and that's fine."
Price was baffled by his early struggles, walking 18 in his first 19 innings, including six in one game and five twice, and reaching his 100-pitch limit without completing six innings.
Wednesday, he threw the ball over the plate with a remarkable consistency, 70 times in 99 pitches, never going to a three-ball count.
He struck out five but allowed a career-high 10 hits, including four straight to start the second inning, the biggest a three-run home run by No. 7 hitter Troy Tulowitzki on a hanging slider, as the Rockies took a 4-0 lead. Price gave up a homer on another hanger to No. 8 hitter Chris Ianetta to open the fourth.
"It cost us the game," Price said. "That's tough."
As disappointing as the loss was, Price and the Rays viewed it as a welcome improvement — and potentially much needed with Scott Kazmir apparently on his way back.
"Much better," manager Joe Maddon. "I was really impressed after the home run by Tulowitzki, he pitched really well for the rest of that game. I like it. More sliders. Sliders for strikes. He threw a changeup toward the end that was a good pitch. Fastball command much better.
"It's never been a question of composure for me, he's always had that. He just looked comfortable throwing the ball over the plate today."
A night after breaking the Rockies' 11-game winning streak, the Rays (35-32) saw their six-game streak, which became the longest in the majors, come to an end.
Price's handful of errant pitches, and his remorse at not throwing more changeups early to mix up his repertoire, was only part of the problem.
The Rays couldn't do much against Rockies starter Aaron Cook, even with Pat Burrell making his rightfield debut on the strength of his 11-for-16 career numbers.
Cook held the hot-hitting Rays to three runs over seven innings — with Burrell knocking in one —and relievers Manny Corpas and Huston Street took it from there.
"I thought we could have probably been a little more aggressive with (Cook)," Burrell said, "but we made a game of it."
The Rays had a few chances, including a two-on, no-out start to the third that included Price's single in his first big-league at-bat. Another key moment was in the fifth, after Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria hit back-to-back homers with two outs, Carlos Peña walked and Ben Zobrist reached on an error, but Burrell flied to deep right.
"What are you gonna do," Burrell said.
On this night, they had to settle for Price's progress.