Price improves to 2-0 since coming off disabled list
Lefty goes the distance to help Rays earn sweep, fourth straight win
ST. PETERSBURG -- Saturday night, the Rays held a "Turn Back the Clock" promotion celebrating the 1970s. Sunday afternoon, David Price followed suit by turning back the clock to 2012.
The reigning American League Cy Young Award winner made his second start since returning from the disabled list, and he pitched like the 2012 David Price rather than the model seen earlier this season, leading a 3-1 win over the White Sox at Tropicana Field.
By recording their fourth straight win to sweep the White Sox, the Rays claimed their eighth win in their last nine games to improve to 49-40 on the season. The Rays also moved into a tie for second place in the American League East, joining the Orioles.
Price needed just 98 pitches on Sunday earn his third win and finish his first complete game since Sept. 25, 2012, against the Red Sox at Fenway Park.
"Just pounded the strike zone," Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
Chicago manager Robin Ventura lamented that his team had its chances Sunday.
"We had shots," Ventura said. "We had [runners on] first and second a couple times, and David is tough. Look at the pitch count of the complete game -- he was sharp."
Clearly, Maddon had Price on a short leash in the ninth. Fernando Rodney warming in the bullpen served as the only reminder Price needed.
"If the first hitter had gotten on, I would have taken him out for Fernando," Maddon said.
Rather than fret about what might happen, Price got to work, striking out Jeff Keppinger to start the inning before retiring Josh Phegley on a flyout to right. He finished off his outing in style by striking out Dayan Viciedo, who went down swinging to the approval of the 16,832 fans.
Tuesday in Houston, Price threw just 70 pitches in seven innings during his first start off the DL, striking out 10 and walking none. Sunday, Price struck out five and walked none.
"I felt good," Price said. "I felt better five days ago. My fastball location was still there. If I can have command of that pitch, I feel like I can be successful at this level. Whenever I have that good fastball location, my other pitches don't have to be as sharp."
Since returning, Price has shown no signs of the left triceps strain he sustained on May 15 that kept him sidelined for 47 days. Prior to going on the disabled list, he had not resembled the dominating pitcher he was in 2012.
"That injury was kind of a blessing in disguise, just letting me kind of regroup, hit the reset button on my mindset and everything," Price said. "I'm right where I need to be right now, and we still have a lot of baseball left."
Maddon felt as though Price's time on the disabled list might have helped to motivate him.
"Any time something's taken away from you, sometimes, that will make you think differently in a sense," Maddon said. "Never been injured before, having to watch Major League games, knowing that he wants to be out there, defending Cy Young Award winner. There are a lot of things that are, motivationally speaking, present at that time.
"To get back, watch this, knowing that he's among the best in all of the game, I think that re-motivates you in a lot of ways, and he's definitely channeled it properly to this point from what I can tell."
Chicago starter John Danks took the loss, but he allowed only five hits in seven innings while striking out five.
Ben Zobrist's sacrifice fly in the first drove home the Rays' first run. They scored again in the fifth on a broken-bat RBI single by Sean Rodriguez.
Phegley simultaneously broke the White Sox 14-inning scoreless streak and hit his first home run in the sixth when he launched a solo shot to left field in just his second Major League game.
The Rays upped their lead in the seventh when Luke Scott led off with a triple before Jose Molina drove him in with a sacrifice fly to right field.
Over the last two weeks the Rays are 11-3 and their starting pitchers lead the Major Leagues with nine wins, 12 quality starts, a 1.95 ERA, and a .193 opposing average over that span. But clearly, having their best pitcher back up to speed has served as a major boost inside the clubhouse.
"It means everything because he is the anchor of the staff," Evan Longoria said. "He's the guy that everyone on the staff looks to if we're in a slide. When he pitches like he did today, they want to follow suit and they want to have that battle within to pitch better than one another. It's tough to do it from the DL.
"I know the feeling and I know he's wanted it more than anybody to come back and not prove anyone wrong but just to justify everything for himself to contribute and feel like you're part of the team again. We have him back. He's out there and healthy. That's the biggest thing."