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Rotation has caught fire since Price's return

ST. PETERSBURG -- Had the Rays kept their starting rotation as it was before the All-Star break, Jeremy Hellickson would be starting Friday's game against Toronto.

Instead, it will be David Price -- the ace of the staff and last season's American League Cy Young Award winner -- taking the mound against the Blue Jays.

"The first game of a series is always a tone-setter," Price said. "Obviously if you win the first game of a three-game set, you just need one more to win the series and it takes a lot of pressure off everybody."

Price has been the model of efficiency since returning from the disabled list (left triceps strain) on July 2, going 2-1 with a 1.08 ERA over 25 innings and averaging just over 10 pitches per inning.

"It's been extremely good with the pitch count being so low and being able to go deep in games," Price said. "I want to go nine on every fifth day. I tell our trainers every time, 'See you after nine,' because that's my mindset. That's what I want to do."

As ecstatic as manager Joe Maddon is that his No. 1 starter has returned to form, he may be more excited about the peripheral effects of Price's return. Tampa Bay's starting pitchers have logged a team-record 15 consecutive quality starts.

Rookie starter Chris Archer threw his first career-complete game, a shutout over Houston on July 14, to send the Rays into the break and has a 0.86 ERA in the three starts since Price returned. It stood at 4.02 in the three starts prior to that.

"I really think the fact that David is back and pitching like he is, setting the example that he has, has helped Archie a lot, too," Maddon said.

Sam Strong is an associate reporter for
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