HOUSTON - How good was the Tampa Bay Rays' David Price on Thursday night in his return from the disabled list? "That's probably the best I've felt on a baseball field maybe in my entire life, honestly," he said after overpowering the overmatched Astros for seven innings in the Rays' 8-0 victory at Minute Maid Park. Wait. Ever? "I feel that's the most control I've had of a baseball game in a very long time," Price continued. "I think that was better than I threw the ball at any point last year."
All Price did last season was win 20 games, lead the American League with a 2.56 ERA and win the AL Cy Young Award. Price's line Tuesday: seven innings, three hits, 10 strikeouts. He threw just 70 pitches, too and did not reach a three-ball count to any of the 22 batters he faced. Oh by the way, 22 batters is one over the minimum for seven innings. "Spectacular," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. Not bad for someone who hadn't pitched in 44 days because of a left triceps strain. "It was awesome," Price said. "It was what I needed." Everything that was missing in Price's nine starts before his injury showed up Tuesday - his command, sharpness of his pitches, focus and velocity. "It was pretty much a complete performance," Maddon said. Price was throwing in the mid-90s, and that makes all his other pitches that much better. That eight of his season-high 10 strikeouts were called means Price had a lot of movement on his cutter and fastball. "The anchor is back," Maddon said. And so is Evan Longoria, who served as the designated hitter after missing three games with a tear in the plantar fascia tissue in his right foot. "He can't hurt himself any worse. I don't know if that thing can fully destroy itself," Maddon said before the game. "It's one of those things where you're not concerned with permanent injury, so you let it fly." Longoria took ground balls at third base early in the afternoon and moved well, but Maddon said Tuesday he didn't know when Longoria would be able to return to his field position. "That's kind of OK, but you don't want him to stand around all game and have that flare up or become more aggravated," Maddon said. Longoria had a pair of singles and drew a walk in five trips to the plate. "He looked normal," Maddon said. A decision on whether Longoria plays tonight depends on how well his foot feels when he arrives at the park. By far the biggest takeaway from the night was Price, who missed eight or nine starts during his stint on the disabled list with a left triceps strain. He was 1-4 with a 5.24 ERA in nine starts prior to the injury. His velocity was down and he looked nothing like the David Price of 2012. Maddon said Price didn't pitch as bad as his record indicated, and that Price was somewhat unlucky during those starts. Price said the injury occurred during his last start May 15 against the Red Sox and that it wasn't a lingering issue that hampered his pitching during the first month and a half of the season. Price was originally supposed to make three minor-league rehab starts with Class-A Charlotte, the third scheduled for Tuesday, but Maddon said the decision came down to this: have Price throw 90 pitches for Charlotte in his final tune-up or throw those pitches for the Rays against the Astros. They opted for the latter, and Price thanked them giving them a glimpse of what they can expect the rest of the season. The goal was 90 pitches. Maddon said before the game he would be pleased with six innings. He was on pace to throw a complete game even with the 90-pitch limit. Price was pulled after seven innings because Maddon, head athletics trainer Ron Porterfield and pitching coach Jim Hickey felt that sitting down and warming seven times was enough of a stress on Price's arm. "For us to really get to the World Series this year we have to pitch at a very high level," Maddon said before the game. "We're not going to do that without him out there." Desmond Jennings powered the offense with a season-high four RBIs as the Rays extended their winning streak to four games. They have won seven of their last nine. The Rays recorded back-to-back shutouts for the second time this season. They have outscored the Astros 20-0 in the first two games of this four-game series and have held them to only six hits. The run support certainly helped, but with the way Price was throwing and the way the Astros have been hitting this series, the first inning sacrifice fly by Wil Myers that scored Jennings would have been enough offense for the victory. Price was that good. And by the time Maddon went to his bullpen, it was 5-0 Rays and the Astros were hopelessly out of it. Maddon said he sensed Price was on during a nine-pitch first inning that ended when he overpowered Chris Carter with a 94 MPH fastball. Price said he knew it was his night while warming up in the bullpen. While admitting it was the best he's ever felt on a mound, Price said he was not surprised with his performance. "Absolutely not," he said. "I don't think there will be anything on a baseball field that's going to surprise me. I hold myself in the highest regard. I want to throw a perfect game every time I go out. I feel like that's myself just trying to do my job." He also said he wasn't concerned with how he would react to the time missed once he reached the Minute Maid Park mound. "It's what I expect to come out here to do, have control of the game" he said. "I feel the game starts and stops with me and that's what happened." Price said his focus Tuesday was better than it had been during his first nine starts. "It was, and I think that me being on the DL was kind of just a blessing in disguise," he said. Price feels his first half struggles are behind him and he's looking forward to a big second half. "I'm excited," he said. "I feel good. I don't have anything hindering anything."