As a new baseball year rolls on for the Rays, David Price stood in front of his dugout Saturday night and soaked in one final memory of a magical 2012 season.
As the 27-year-old left-hander extended both arms and held the American League Cy Young Award high above his head, an appreciative Tropicana Field crowd cheered Price, who stood exultantly between Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and pitching coach Jim Hickey.
Now Price, who is slated to make his second start of the year today against the Indians, is seeking to become the first AL pitcher to capture back-to-back Cy Young honors since Boston’s Pedro Martinez in 1999-2000.
“David’s always had good stuff, but it’s the way he commands all his pitches that makes him so tough,’’ teammate Ben Zobrist said. “I think the cutter is the one pitch that sets him apart from a few years ago and you can see his maturity. He knows exactly what pitch he wants to throw in every situation.’’
In edging Detroit’s Justin Verlander by four points in the closest Cy Young voting since Mike Cuellar and Denny McLain shared the AL award in 1969, Price went 20-5 last season and has lost only once in his past 19 starts, dating to June 19, 2012.
Among active pitchers with at least 100 starts, Price’s .663 career winning percentage (61-31) is tied with Philadelphia’s Roy Halladay for the best in the majors.
“He has other weapons, but I think David can throw his fastball 85 or 90 percent of the time in a game and win,’’ Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “This guy’s very competitive. He doesn’t just want to be good, he wants to be great and I love him for it.’’
Price started on Opening Day against the Orioles on Tuesday and yielded a two-run home run to Matt Wieters in the first inning. Despite struggling with his control, Price then added five shutout innings and didn’t factor in the decision, throwing 100 pitches in a 7-4 setback.
Price remains under Tampa Bay’s control through the 2014 season, when he could cash in as a free agent with another team.
For now, Maddon is thankful to have No.?14 on the mound as his unquestioned ace.
“David is really emotional,’’ Maddon said, “and I think he was a little bit worked up in that first game. I have all the confidence he’s going to be just fine. By (today’s) game, everything should be back to normal. And when he’s not pitching, he’s the best cheerleader in our dugout.’’