ST. PETERSBURG — RHP Chris Archer will experience his first Opening Day today in a big-league uniform and if that’s not special enough, Archer gets to watch LHP David Price, his favorite pitcher, start for the Rays.
“For him to be the starter on my first Opening Day, on a personal level, it’s very divine,” Archer said.
When relayed that comment, Price laughed, saying he had no idea what Archer meant. But Archer’s sentiment is likely shared by many Rays fans.
Price left the clubhouse in October the day after the Rays were eliminated from the AL division series by the Red Sox believing he had pitched his last game in a Tampa Bay uniform. Now that he’s back, he could not be happier. Price said he felt better this spring than he has in years.
“I feel very good right now,” Price said. “I didn’t have that week or two weeks in spring training when I felt my arm was going to fall off. That happens to just about everybody, and I didn’t go through that. Hopefully that’s a good sign.”
Manager Joe Maddon said that could be the result of the peace of mind Price feels after not being traded in the offseason.
“I’m sure that has something to do with it,” Maddon said. “I think he’s very happy to be here. I think he’s happy the way the winter played out. He is. I am. The whole team is. He sees himself as a Ray, and I love that, and it personifies the way we are and how we do things around here, so it’s wonderful to have him.”
Price followed his 20-win 2012 AL Cy Young Award-winning season with a 10-8 record during an injury-interrupted 2013, but he was 9-4 with a 2.53 ERA in 18 starts after he returned from the DL. He missed 44 games with a left triceps strain.
Maddon said he saw the same Price this spring as he did during the second half of last season.
“Velocity is up, command of all pitches, all pitches have great movement,” Maddon said.
Price said he has one personal goal for this season: 200 innings.
“For me, that is a pitcher that is staying on his routine, staying consistent, not getting injured,” he said. “If you make 33 starts in a year, and that’s a whole lot, you go six (innings) every start, that’s 188 innings. I feel like if you got to 200 innings, that means you were pitching every fifth day, you stayed healthy, you were pitching at least six innings, if not seven. That’s a good milestone these days for a pitcher.”
C Jose Molina gets the nod today since he works well with Price, who has a 2.67 career ERA pitching to Molina and a 4.05 career ERA pitching to another catcher.
The Rays traded for C Ryan Hanigan, then signed him to a three-year, $10.8 million contract extension to play, not split his time with Molina. But Maddon said Saturday he still hasn’t decided how he will divide the playing time between the two.
“We’ll see how it all plays out,” Maddon said. “Perfect world they all stay healthy. Perfect world you don’t have to rest anybody for any particular reasons. I would think that Hanny is going to get a little bit more, just based on I don’t want to run J-Mo into the ground. I think if we give J-Mo a little bit of rest now and then, you’re going to see a better product, and I want to be cognizant of that, too.”
Bunting for hits
You can expect more bunts this season for the Rays as OF/DH Matt Joyce tries to negate the effects of the shift, and CF Desmond Jennings and LF David DeJesus utilize their speed to get on base.
But don’t expect the Rays to become bunt-happy with runners on base.
“We’re not looking to become this big sacrifice team,” Maddon said. “We’re not into the sacrifice except when it’s necessary.”
Three to the DL
As expected, the Rays played RHP Jeremy Hellickson (recovering from right elbow surgery), INF Tim Beckham (recovering from right knee surgery) and RHP Juan Carlos Oviedo (recovering from right elbow surgery) on the disabled list. Oviedo is scheduled to come off the DL on April 14.
Dave Wills and Andy Freed will begin their 10th season calling games on the radio. Only three radio teams have been together longer: Detroit’s Dan Dickerson and Jim Price (12 seasons), Baltimore’s Joe Angel and Fred Manfra (11) and San Francisco’s Jon Miller and Dave Flemming (11). ... The walkway from right field to center field has reduced capacity at the Trop to 31,042. ... The Rays are 1-1 against Toronto on Opening Day. The last time the Rays lost a series at the Trop to the Blue Jays was April 2007. Price hasn’t beaten the Jays at the Trop since May 5, 2011. He is 0-2 in three starts since then for his only two career losses against the Jays. ... INF Wilson Betemit is on the Triple-A Durham roster. ... OF Josh Sale was reinstated from team suspension and is on Class A Charlotte roster.