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Task for Rays' Price: solve the Rangers

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Published:   |   Updated: March 21, 2013 at 01:20 AM
ST. PETERSBURG -

Did you learn anything from watching Matt Moore?

That question was asked of David Price on Saturday, before the Texas Rangers evened this American League Division Series at 1-1, making Game 3 this afternoon (5:07 p.m., TBS) an important swing game in the best-of-five series.

Price, winless in six September starts and winless in six career games against the Rangers including two in last year's ALDS, will be on the mound when the Tampa Bay Rays try to regain the series lead.

The question wasn't a dig at Price, who is far more accomplished on the major-league level than Moore, the rookie phenom. It's just the left-handed Moore, who has a little more juice on his fastball than Price, barely broke a sweat during his seven shutout innings in Game 1. The Rays won, 9-0.

So, did you learn anything, Price was asked. And Price answered, yes.

Throw strikes. Get ahead in the count, 0-1, 0-2, just like Moore.

"Make them take defensive swings," Price said.

Price has done that to nearly every team in the major leagues over his brief career except the Rangers. It's one of those fluky parts of the game, where Price looks like Cy Young against, say, the Toronto Blue Jays, but can't solve the Rangers' powerful right-handed oriented lineup.

A lot of pitchers can't.

But Price is better than most pitchers.

"I'll take him all day every day," pitcher J.P. Howell said.

The Rays have confidence in Price, despite the fact he allowed 11 runs (seven earned) in his last two starts and nearly buried the season when he put the Rays in a 6-0 hole against the New York Yankees in the season finale.

"David is a big part of our present and future, and I have a lot of faith in him," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "He's not hurt. He's one of the better pitchers in baseball, so if there was an injury involvement, yes I would be concerned about it, but David belongs out there in the third game, and we'll see how it all works out."

Still, much like James Shields last October, Maddon said Price's resume overrides his September swoon.

"You can't walk away from these guys," Maddon said.

Price's problem is not physical. He's not injured, nor, he said, is he fatigued after pitching 224 1/3 innings over 34 starts.

Maddon has made references to a "different game plan" for Price when it comes to today's start.

What does that mean?

Price has expanded his bag of tools to include a cutter to go with his fastball, curveball and changeup. What he needs to do is learn to throw the right pitches in the right situations.

"He's gotten away from doing some things on occasion that make him really good," Maddon said.

As Maddon reminded everyone before Sunday's workout at Tropicana Field, Price is only 25 years old. He's still learning.

Price said he wasn't aware that he was winless in September, but nobody has to remind him he is winless against the Rangers. And Price said those two losses in the 2010 ALDS stayed with him for a long time.

"But I don't doubt myself by any means," he said.

No, Price doesn't lack for confidence. His goal today, he said, is the same goal he has for every start: "I expect to go nine innings and give up zero runs," he said.

That would be a welcomed change for the Rays, since Price is 0-3 with a 5.67 ERA against the Rangers.

"It's a very tough lineup to pitch against," Price said Sunday. "They essentially have five Longos (Evan Longoria) in their lineup that are hitting the ball out of the park."

Yet, Price has handled big bats before.

If he uses his tools effectively, the Rays are confident Price can handle the Rangers.

"No one is harder on him than himself," center fielder B.J. Upton said. "I think after the last start he's looking to do big things this time. I think he's up for it, and I think we're going to see the David that we're accustomed to seeing."


rmooney@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7227

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