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ST. PETERSBURG -- David Price is hands-down the best pitcher in the American League right now, if not all of baseball.
The Rays left-hander became the AL's first 13-game winner on Thursday afternoon, with an impressive 6-0 victory over Cleveland at Tropicana Field.
Whether the 26-year-old is the best at this stage of the season in all of baseball comes down to a comparison with Mets knuckleballer R.A. Dickey.
Dickey also won his 13th in a matinee on Thursday as the Mets clobbered Washington, 9-5, shortly after Tampa Bay sealed its victory. The argument for Dickey would be that he's lost just once in 14 decisions. But his earned run average is a shade higher than Price's, 2.72 to 2.64.
That debate put aside, there's little disagreement Price is No. 1 in the AL. He's 13-4, with the 2.64 ERA.
As Major League starters go, I believe Price is underrated. It may be unfair to state this, but he doesn't get the exposure of Detroit's Justin Verlander, or Philadelphia's Roy Halladay, the Yankees' CC Sabathia or even Dickey.
There were a lot of folks who thought Price should have started for the AL in last week's All-Star Game instead of Verlander. Price was on a roll, while Verlander -- as he showed in the first inning in Kansas City -- has been struggling.
Just as controversial was Dickey being snubbed for the NL start when manager Tony La Russa picked San Francisco's Matt Cain.
Price, who's in only his fourth season, came into the Midsummer Classic later and showed his colors by throwing a perfect seven-pitch inning.
In a victory Thursday that was crucial for the Rays after Wednesday night's 10-6 loss to the Indians, Price allowed just two singles and walked three during seven innings. He didn't allow a hit until Jose Lopez singled in the fifth.
That hit came after a walk to Carlos Santana and created the toughest inning for him. Santana was cut down attempting to go to third on a botched hit-and-run play, Shelley Duncan fanned and after Price walked Lou Marson, Aaron Cunningham flied out to center.
End of threat.
"What a difference 16 hours makes," said Rays manager Joe Maddon. "You come back after a game like last night. ... David was outstanding. He had once again great command of his fastball and started mixing in some of the other things, but fastball command was incredible -- 97-98 [mph]."
Maddon, who insists Price is pitching better now than he did in 2010, when he was 19-6 with a 2.72 ERA to finish second the AL Cy Young Award voting, agrees his left-hander is the best in the league.
"Having not seen everybody in awhile, I'd say no question, he's in the top two or three," said Maddon. "From a purely selfish standpoint, I'd have to say he is the best in the American League right now."
Maddon believes Price is reaching the point in his maturity "where he knows what to do with the tools in his tool box. I'm talking about pitching -- ability. I'm talking about winding up and throwing a strike when he wants to. He's getting to that point, pitching more intelligently, with better command of everything, picking the right spots to try other things. It's just maturing, but I honestly believe he's pitching better than he did a couple of years ago."
Price concurs. He said he's throwing his fastball more consistently and overall has better command of his pitches. Velocity of his fastball is 95.5 mph, the fastest he's ever thrown.
Price has won five straight decisions and seven of his last eight. His July ERA is 1.69.
Losing pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez said Price "is a tough guy, a left-handed pitcher throwing 97-98 miles an hour, with a good breaking ball. I definitely had to go out there and try to minimize the errors and mistakes because when you give up a run or two, it's going to be really hard to win [against him]."
Or, as Indians manager Manny Acta put it: "He overpowered us, mid-90s fastball and backdoor slider to our righties. We just didn't have very good at-bats against him."
After seven innings and 108 pitches, Maddon felt Price had had enough.
Reliever Wade Davis allowed just one walk over the last two innings.
"If it had been a closer game, I could have let him go out for the eighth inning, but under the circumstances, 6-0, it wasn't wise. A hundred and eight pitches is a good day's work for me." said Maddon. "He really wasn't going to throw a complete game, so there was no sense at that point to send him back out."
The Rays have been as inconsistent for over a month as any contender, and have dropped back in the AL East standings.
"If we can get that winning taste back in our mouth where we come to the field and feel like we're going to win every game, we'll start putting some streaks together and start winning a lot of games," Price said.
Several weeks ago when asked if he honestly feels the Rays can compete with the Yankees this season, Maddon said yes without hesitation.
"The pitching is what keeps us in the games," he added.
And right now, that starts with Price.
Hal Bodley, dean of American baseball writers, is Correspondent Emeritus for MLB.com. Follow him @halbodley on Twitter.