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Rays notes: Maddon wants rotation more aggressive

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Published:   |   Updated: May 7, 2013 at 06:52 AM
ST. PETERSBURG -

The Rays aren't off to the start they envisioned and their manager has little difficulty pinpointing the reason why.

“We haven't pitched to the level we're capable of — and we're going to,'' Joe Maddon said Monday as Tampa Bay returned from its second extended road trip in the past month.

The Rays entered Monday night's game with a team ERA of 4.30, well above the 3.19 mark that led the American League last season. David Price, Jeremy Hellickson and Roberto Hernandez had combined for 18 starts and only three wins.

“I just want to see more fastballs,'' Maddon said. “Throw your fastball where you want, get ahead of the hitters and then pitch off of that. Our problem, more than anything, is not being aggressive enough with the fastball. I like fastball pitchers, we have fastball pitchers and it's still the best pitch in the game.''

Despite playing only six games at Tropicana Field since April 8, the Rays opened a 10-game homestand only two games under .500, eager to generate some momentum.

“Our offense has actually overachieved to a point and our defense has been solid,'' Maddon said. “There's a lot more pitching in us. I like when our pitchers dictate to the other team. I don't care what it says on somebody's back, I don't care how hot somebody is, I believe our pitchers at their best will beat the better hitters on other teams. We've got to get back to that attitude.''

What, me worry? As the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner, Price holds himself to a high standard.

But after seven starts, the All-Star southpaw is staring at a 1-3 record and a 6.25 ERA, allowing a staggering total of 66 base runners in 442/3 innings.

Batters are hitting .302 against him.

“We haven't even played a fourth of the season,'' Price said. “So there's a lot of time left to play our best baseball, myself and the Rays. We're fine. We still feel very confident and I have a positive outlook. I've struggled before, so that's something I can look back on. Given my past success, I know I belong at this level. I just have to put more pitches in better spots.''

Hot bat, hot glove From a hitting perspective, no one wearing a Rays uniform has ever had a better start to a season than 1B James Loney, who went into Monday's game batting .398, the highest average ever for a Tampa Bay hitter through the first 30 games.

As stunning as Loney's work with the bat has been, though, there is another aspect to the veteran's game that Maddon has found even more impressive.

“We've been around some pretty good first basemen and right now he's playing at a really, really high level,'' Maddon said. “He's instilled a lot of confidence in our infielders. It's really been fun to watch.''

Noteworthy Maddon said Ben Zobrist should return today after leaving the team to join his family following the death of his grandmother. … Yunel Escobar has recovered after missing Sunday's game in Denver with a bruised left hand. He replaced Sean Rodriguez at shortstop in the sixth inning of Monday's game. … In Durham, top pitching prospect Chris Archer missed Monday's scheduled start against Syracuse with a minor calf injury. … The Rays lead the majors with 27 runs scored in the first inning. … Tampa Bay is the only club in the majors whose starters have gone at least five innings in every game this season.

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