David Price wanted the responsibility of being the top man in the Rays’ rotation, and now he’s dealing with a cruel tradeoff: He usually has to pitch on days when the Rays’ short circuit-prone lineup is facing one of the opponent’s best pitchers.
Price has pitched well in the majority of his starts, and he was good Wednesday. But the Rays managed only five hits against Colby Lewis and Neftali Feliz and fell 3-0 to the AL West-leading Rangers before 13,725 at Tropicana Field.
After dropping two of three to the team that ousted them from the postseason last year to finish their homestand 3-3, the Rays (29-26) open a four-city, 11-game road trip tonight in Seattle.
"(Price) was phenomenal," said right fielder Matt Joyce, who has been one of the few consistent forces for the Rays but went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts Wednesday. "That’s the toughest part, when you see your guy going there and giving you eight really solid innings and you can’t put up any runs."
Price (6-5) has had a few starts that didn’t measure up to last year’s 19-wins standard — he gave up five runs in 41/3 innings to the Angels on April 29 and five runs in consecutive starts against the Yankees and Marlins more recently — but the Rays have scored one or no runs in three of his five losses.
Wednesday, the 2010 AL Cy Young Award runner-up lost for only the second time in his career when pitching at least eight innings. He held the Rangers to three runs on five hits while following his career-high 12-strikeout outing last Friday against Cleveland with eight strikeouts.
It didn’t help that the Rangers stole five bases, including four in their two-run eighth inning.
"I threw the ball well; just didn’t throw it well enough," Price said. "Colby Lewis threw a remarkable game, and that’s that."
The Rangers broke a scoreless tie in the fifth inning on a leadoff double by Adrian Beltre and an RBI single by Nelson Cruz, and Price retired 11 in a row before Craig Gentry doubled with two out in the eighth.
Price then walked Ian Kinsler, and Gentry and Kinsler pulled off a double steal of third and second. Speedy Elvis Andrus followed, and after drawing first baseman Sean Rodriguez in with a fake bunt, he singled just over the glove of a diving Rodriguez to score the two runners.
"He kind of hit it off the end (of the bat), and it popped up higher than you’d expect any ground ball to hop up off the end of the bat like that," Rodriguez said. "There wasn’t much I could do."
Rays catcher John Jaso said he had committed to not throwing on the double steal because there were two outs, he liked the matchup of Price against Andrus, and he didn’t want to take the fielders out of position if the Rangers had a hit-and-run called. Andrus also stole second and third in the inning.
Ben Zobrist had the Rays’ only extra-base hit, a first-inning double that produced nothing when Lewis (5-5) struck out Joyce and Evan Longoria. The Rays didn’t get a runner into scoring position again until the eighth, when Sam Fuld singled and stole second with two out. And that chance died when John Jaso flew out.
Lewis, who has a 2.19 ERA on the road, held the Rays to four hits over eight innings before Feliz came on in the ninth to get his 11th save. Damon and Reid Brignac also had singles against Lewis, and Zobrist singled against Feliz.
"Lewis was really good," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "He elevated his fastball, threw his breaking ball for strikes, really mixed things up well. ...
"I don’t want to just say we were awful today. Maybe their guy was really good, and I thought he was."