Manager Joe Maddon admits he had doubts when LHP David Price started working on a curveball the second half of last season.
Young pitchers normally add pitches in the minors, but Price, who will make his fifth start of the season tonight against the Royals, spent so little time in the minors he had to work on the pitch after getting to the majors.
He kept improving it, and he threw it with his best command yet Sunday, when he pitched a four-hit shutout against the Blue Jays.
"He's put that together rather quickly," Maddon said Friday. "Honestly, I was a little skeptical when I first heard about it, because it's tough to learn here. It's a tough pitch to command, and the way he throws it, it's (an especially) tough pitch to command.
"(But) when he does something, it doesn't surprise me. He's so motivated to be great - not just good. It's not easy to do what he's done in that short amount of time.
"That speaks to aptitude also."
Price is 10-4 with a 3.20 ERA since July 31, and it might not be coincidence that his rise as a starter parallels the addition of the curve to his mid-90s fastball, slider and change-up.
"We had to use it in the pen and stuff before you take it out there," Price said. "There were a couple of starts when I didn't throw it at all and a couple of starts where I felt pretty good with it and I threw it a lot.
"Right now, if I don't have it in the first, I can still find it. So that's good."
Jaso starts again
John Jaso made a sixth consecutive start behind the plate, and he'll catch one of the remaining two games against the Royals, but Maddon said he isn't ready to say the seven-year minor-leaguer is battling for a permanent share of the job.
"I would never want to put that kind of pressure on him," Maddon said. "I just want him to keep playing like he's doing."
What seems certain is Jaso will continue to share the job with Dioner Navarro at least until Kelly Shoppach returns from knee surgery.
Jaso entered Friday leading AL rookies in batting (.455), RBIs (10), on-base percentage (.606) and slugging percentage (.727), and was second in walks (nine). He did go 0-for-3 Friday.
"We've always liked him," Maddon said. "The difference right now is he's gotten so much more proficient as a catcher. Offensively ... he's shown what you're seeing right now."
Joyce has goal
Held back from hitting or throwing, OF Matt Joyce (strained elbow) is running, shagging fly balls and strengthening his injured arm. He'll continue with that work at the Trop when the Rays head west after Sunday's game.
Joyce is aiming to be available to the Rays around the time LHP J.P. Howell (weak shoulder) returns - possibly the end of May.
Howell threw another bullpen session Friday - 30 pitches, including about five change-ups - and said his shoulder feels good. He'll throw another bullpen session Monday.
Worth looking back
The Rays' 17-5 record after 22 games was the best by a team since 2003, when the Yankees and Giants were 18-4 and the Royals were 17-5. So how did those teams end up?
The Yankees won 101 games, beat the Twins and Red Sox in the AL playoffs and lost to the Marlins in the World Series. The Giants won 100 games before losing to the Marlins in the NL Division Series.
Only the Royals tailed off. They wound up third in the AL Central at 83-79.
Odds and ends
Maddon took delivery before the game of a 1972 Chevy Chevelle Malibu convertible he bought during the road trip to Chicago. He'll drive it home with the top down if the Rays win it all, he told the team's radio crew. ... The hip "Big Game (James)" T-shirts given out to the first 10,000 fans Friday were also making their way through the clubhouse. Designer and namesake James Shields and Price were among those wearing one. ... The Rays are hoping for a bigger crowd for the Summer Concert Series game tonight with the Royals and ZZ Top. Last Saturday, with Jimmy Buffett playing in Tampa, the Blue Jays game and John Fogerty concert drew 23,870.