ST. PETERSBURG — LHP David Price admits he has to pitch better.
With just one win in his past six starts and a losing record (9-10) overall, he takes the mound today needing to give up fewer hits with runners in scoring position (a .304 average). And to cut down on the number of home runs allowed (eight in his past six starts). Also, some better run support would help.
All that said, there is a question if something else is in play during his extended struggles:
Are the umpires against him?
Twice this season, Price has been ejected from games for protesting calls from the bench. Since then there has been a dramatic downturn in his success.
In Price's first 14 starts, he was 7-5 with a 3.51 ERA. He was ejected for the first time in Detroit on June 13, and in nine starts since he is 2-5, 4.21. And in the six starts since his second ejection, July 1, he is 1-4, 4.86.
According to baseball-reference.com data, the overall percentage of strikes called on Price's pitches has been roughly the same all season, in the 19-20 percent range.
But the amount of walks he has issued has risen curiously — and dramatically: from 15 in 97⅓ innings (1.39 per nine innings) before his first ejection to 20 in 57⅔ innings post (3.12 per nine).
If you want to believe in a conspiracy, that the diverse umpiring crews throughout MLB have somehow banded together to doom Price, the difference could be just a few borderline pitches a game going against him.
Rays manager Joe Maddon said that though he knows the umpires compare notes, he does not think they are working against Price.
"Honestly, I haven't seen anything different," Maddon said. "Of course they talk. That's undeniable. They'll be the first ones to tell you that, too. I know they have shared conference calls, and there's a lot of things they do in an attempt to make themselves better."
But not to conspire against a certain pitcher.
"I think it's hard to do that with today's technology to do the old-school thing where you're really going to stick it to somebody because there's too many checks and balances out there now compared to 10 years ago, 15 years ago where it was a lot easier for maybe a group to try to teach somebody a lesson," Maddon said. "It's much more difficult to do that in today's game."
CATCHING ON: Rookie C Robinson Chirinos is only in the majors because John Jaso (oblique) then Jose Lobaton (knee sprain) got hurt, but the Rays are intrigued enough that they want to see him play on a somewhat regular basis.
With Kelly Shoppach unlikely to return (a $3.2 million team option), their 2012 catchers could be a choice among Chirinos, Lobaton, Jaso and even Nevin Ashley, who is now at Triple-A Durham.
"Who knows. … It's just going to be a nice competition, I'll say that," Maddon said. "It's a nice problem to have."
Jaso (oblique strain) worked out on the field again Saturday and if he continues to progress could start a rehab assignment at Durham this week.
VETERAN MOVE: DH Johnny Damon told Oakland TV analyst Ray Fosse he agreed with the error call by official scorer Bill Mathews on the ground ball hit back to pitcher Craig Breslow in the sixth Friday. Even though it cost Damon a hit, he said he would have felt worse adding three earned runs to Breslow's stat line.
MISCELLANY: B.J. Upton's streak of reaching base ended at seven plate appearances, one off the team record, when he grounded out in the second. … The 11 shutouts are the Rays' most since 2004. … The seven total steals against the Rays were a record, as were the four by Coco Crisp, who suffered a strained right calf.