Joe Maddon is going to have an even harder time reining in expectations for David Price now.
The Rays' manager's work in progress was equal to his hype Saturday night, striking out 11 in 52/3 innings of impressive work and helping the Rays climb back to within two games of .500 with a 5-2 victory against the Twins.
Price (1-0) earned his first regular-season major-league victory in his second start of the year, the first lasting only 31/3 innings Monday at Cleveland. The top pick of the 2007 draft came with the overpowering heat that made him a sensation in the 2008 ALCS, when he won one game in relief and saved one.
Maddon constantly talks about the tall lefty's "ridiculous" talent, but also cautions that he's only 23 years old and has spent fewer than two years in professional baseball, and, as such, is not a finished product.
"You have to understand, there's still development to be done," Maddon said. "We understand that, and that's part of the patient process. He's going to be very good. His stuff once again was dominant."
Thanks to a postgame concert by platinum-recording rock band 3 Doors Down, Price got to make his first home start in front of a near sellout crowd of 36,052. Each of his strikeouts was cheered, and as the K count grew, the cheers got louder.
When he gave way to Grant Balfour with one on and two outs in the sixth, Price received a standing ovation.
"That was good," Price said of his 108-pitch outing. "Now I've got to build on this. I can definitely be more efficient out there. I want to get into that seventh, eighth and ninth inning."
The idea that Price still has room to get a lot better might be hard for the competition to digest. Against the Twins, Price was able to blow pitches by batters seemingly at will, whenever he needed to ratchet up the intensity to get outs.
His only notable mistakes were a fastball in the third that Joe Mauer hit for a ground-rule double and a wild overthrow on a comebacker to the mound in the second, "probably the most unathletic thing I've ever done," he said.
"Rarely do you see a left-hander throw as hard as he does and have good off-speed stuff that he throws for strikes," Twins third baseman Joe Crede said. "When all that goes together, it makes for a tough day."
Rays shortstop Ben Zobrist had one of the better views of Price's pitches and called them "nasty." According to Zobrist, some of the Twins players "said they barely saw the ball their first at-bat."
The Rays trailed 1-0 going into the bottom of the third but drew even with a solo home run from newcomer Joe Dillon, who got a start at designated hitter, and scored three more on RBI singles by Carl Crawford, Evan Longoria and Zobrist against Francisco Liriano (2-7).
Crawford, who had another excellent game but did see his consecutive stolen bases streak of 32 end in the third inning, hit a solo home run off R.A. Dickey in the seventh.
The bullpen did the job for the second consecutive night, with Balfour and Randy Choate holding a dangerous Twins lineup to a run on one hit over the final 31/3 innings.
And so a team that had lost five in a row on a 2-5 road trip has won the first two games of a six-game homestand, and, despite the loss of second baseman Akinori Iwamura for the year and rash of other injuries, appears to have new life.