ST. PETERSBURG — LHP David Price may not have initially understood — or liked — the Rays' decision to have him spend the first part of this season in the minor leagues.
But Price, 23, says the plan is starting to make a little more sense now.
The Rays thought that limiting Price's pitch count during April and May in Triple-A Durham would help the 6-foot-6 rookie's development and allow him to be strong in the final months.
The decision appears to be paying off. Price, today's starter, is hitting his stride at the right time as the Rays continue their playoff push.
"I definitely feel good with where I'm at, physically, on the field, and mentally," Price said. "I had a rough month, month and a half or two months, but I feel good now."
Price struggled with his control in his first month in the majors this season, walking 30 in his first eight starts. But he has improved his fastball command and walked just eight in his past seven outings.
"I feel like I can throw any pitch wherever I want right now," Price said. "That's where I tried to get all season, and now I feel like I've gotten there."
The last time Price faced the Rangers, July 4 in Arlington, he didn't have such command, walking five and giving up six runs in the shortest start of his career (11/3 innings), an outing he labeled embarrassing. "So I've got a little bit of pride to get back (today)," he said.
Manager Joe Maddon said he knew that a prideful Price — who shined in the 2008 postseason — wouldn't understand the spring decision "regardless of how supportive he wanted to be," but "this is the time of year we were planning for."
Price has thrown 1111/3 innings combined between Durham and the Rays, a significantly smaller workload than others in the rotation, such as James Shields (1722/3) and Matt Garza (165).
"I think I missed probably 200 pitches on the year, and it may not seem like a lot, but it's basically two more starts," Price said. "It makes sense, but at the time, I didn't really want to look at it like that."
GOOD TEAM: C Gregg Zaun has said that though he has hit a couple of homers in his short stint with the Rays, "they didn't bring me in here to be Babe Ruth."
"They traded for me because I know how to call a ballgame and I know how to take control of what's going on," said Zaun, a veteran of 13 big-league seasons. "That's what I do."
An example of that was Friday night's game. Maddon said LHP Scott Kazmir's strong start — his longest of the season — had a lot of Zaun's fingerprints on it.
Maddon said he thought Zaun called and caught a great game, and two trips to the mound Zaun made when he wasn't in synch with Kazmir played a huge role.
"Beyond everything else that looked really good (Friday) night, those trips to the mound I loved about as much as anything," Maddon said.
Maddon said he will continue to split time between Zaun and switch-hitting Dioner Navarro based on matchups. Zaun starts today and Monday against right-handers, and Navarro on Tuesday and Wednesday against lefties, against whom he has fared better this season.
Meanwhile, Zaun said he'll continue to try to build trust with the pitching staff. He said he learned from ex-teammate Brad Ausmus how to digest information and how important it is for pitchers to know how prepared he is before starts.
"Once you gain their trust and they know you know what you're talking about, it's easier for them to assume you're going to put down the right fingers," Zaun said.
MISCELLANY: 2B Akinori Iwamura is 4-for-12 with an RBI, five runs and eight walks in six games on his rehab assignment with Durham. … The Forest Hills All-Stars from Tampa defeated Mexico 7-6 in the annual Cal Ripken World Series Championship Game. … 2B Ben Zobrist and INF Willy Aybar will sign autographs for kids 14 and under today along the first-base line from noon to 12:30.