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Fennelly: Rays' Price may have real cause for concern

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Published:   |   Updated: April 8, 2013 at 03:45 PM
ST. PETERSBURG -

The road trip couldn't begin fast enough. The Rays gave up against the Indians with about three innings left Sunday, starters being pulled for early showers, moving on to weightier matters, like whether to get steak or chicken on the plane to Texas.

The Rays lost so badly to Cleveland, 13-0, that they officially eliminated the Lightning from the playoffs.

But it was who led the way — now, there's a real concern.

Really, is it ever too early to wonder about your prize-winning ace?

David Price received his 2012 Cy Young Award on the field before Saturday night's game. He had something else handed to him Sunday.

He's two starts in and two starts off, 0-1 with a — wait for it — 8.18 ERA. He was rocked by Cleveland, a team he has owned, giving up a pair of three-run homers and a career-high eight earned runs. In short, Sunday definitely did not pass the Astro sniff test.

The Rays' 3-3 start is one thing, and so is the 10-game road swing that begins tonight in Texas, then goes through Boston and Baltimore, and so is 20 out of the next 26 away from home, in fact. But Price getting rocked, shaky for a second consecutive start to start the season, the velocity not quite there, 11 innings, 17 hits, five walks, 22 base runners, now there's something to worry about.

“He's just not been as frisky as we normally see him,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “We just need to be patient. … I'm not reading into anything.”

On get-away day, Price didn't get away with anything, beginning with that fat pitch Indians DH Mark Reynolds crushed 419 feet to dead center for three runs and a 4-0 Cleveland lead in the third.

“I don't really have a positive from today,” Price said. “That's tough to do.”

There is this: It was a bad day all around for reigning Cy Young winners, no matter what country they were in. R.A. Dickey, the 2012 NL winner, was similarly shelled — 10 hits and seven earned runs in less than five innings for Toronto in a … 13-0 loss to Boston. Did we mention that the other day the Nationals lost 15-0 against the Reds?

But there's only one baseball team around here, and its star pitcher is struggling at the start of a season when everyone is wondering if the Rays pitching staff, historically good in 2012, can come close to that this time around, particularly without sled dog James Shields.

On the other hand, before Price began butchering his Sunday start — and after Baltimore's Chris Davis stopped terrorizing our community — Rays pitching had thrown 20 consecutive scoreless innings, including superior turns by starters Matt Moore and Alex Cobb.

But 17 hits and five homers in one afternoon did wonders to scatter that to the winds. By the way, here's a pitching line you absolutely never saw from Fernando Rodney last season: two-thirds of an inning, three hits, two runs, both earned, one home run.

This opening homestand provided other clues. The Rays haven't made an error through six games, better defense, which was anything but a given the first half of last season. They're not striking out as much, either, though you wouldn't have known it by shortstop Yunel Escobar, who whiffed three times Sunday, including with bases loaded to end the first, off and flailing.

Escobar is batting .143 through six games with a groundout RBI. Matt Joyce, who struck out twice Sunday, is at .176. Evan Longoria has yet to hit a homer. The Rays had four hits Sunday, two from Ben Zobrist, the one sure thing so far in 2013.

We'll know more after this road trip.

“We're not intimidated by any venue,” Maddon said. “The fact that we've grown up in the American League East permits us not to be intimidated. … Texas can be (intimidating). Boston definitely can be, and now Baltimore is back to that point. It's a long trip, that's a little more difficult right out of the chute, but otherwise our guys will be fine.”

David Price is scheduled to pitch in both Boston and Baltimore. Look, he has only about 30 starts left, so there's no need to truly … I mean, if Josh Freeman had two starts like this (and he has), that would be different.

Still, it's never too early to worry.

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