ST. PETERSBURG — After an offseason when many fans wondered whether left-hander David Price would even be around to start the Rays’ season opener, he showed up in a big way Monday.
Price was in command, leading a 9-2 victory against the Toronto Blue Jays at Tropicana Field by allowing six hits over 71⁄3 innings with six strikeouts and just one walk.
Afterward, for Price, you knew it wasn’t just another game.
“Very meaningful,’’ Price said.
He was sharp throughout, working a six-pitch sixth inning and a seven-pitch seventh, before being lifted in the eighth after surrendering a pinch-hit two-run homer to Toronto’s Erik Kratz on what he called “a mistake pitch.’’
Otherwise, Price was outstanding in registering the first Opening Day victory of his career.
“He had really good stuff, especially early in the game,’’ Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “It was good for us and good for him, good for his confidence. He has put so much into the preparation for this season. For him to come out and see the fruits of all that, it’s a validation of all he has done.’’
Price was 10-8 with a 3.33 ERA last season. He suffered a left triceps strain and was on the disabled list for 44 games from May 16 to July 1. Price was masterful down the stretch, though, adding the exclamation point with a complete-game victory in the Game 163 tiebreaker against the Texas Rangers.
Following Tampa Bay’s playoff-elimination series against the Red Sox, though, many wondered if Price had pitched his last game for the Rays. Even after signing a one-year, $14 million contract, it was conceivable for him to be dealt away.
Instead, he seems intent on setting the tone for a Rays team that should contend for the American League East title.
“It feels good and everybody in the clubhouse knows that,’’ Price said. “They know I want to be here. I know the guys in the clubhouse want me here. It’s great to be back.’’
It was a continuation of Price’s outstanding performance in spring training, when he posted a 2-0 mark with a 3.63 ERA in four starts. He had 20 strikeouts in 171⁄3 innings with just three walks.
From the outset Monday, Price was in control.
“The first pitch was a strike and the third pitch was a web gem by Desmond (Jennings, the center fielder who made a diving catch on Jose Reyes’ sinking line drive),’’ Price said. “That’s what we do, pitching and defense. Our offense continued to swing the bats like they did all spring training.
“I felt good with whatever I was throwing today. To get that kind of offensive output makes my job easier. We’ve been doing it for a while now. It doesn’t just start on Opening Day. This is like a continuation of spring training. It’s not spring training any more, but we used it to get that winning feeling in our clubhouse.’’
Price, the 2012 AL Cy Young Award winner who moved his career record to 72-39, wants to set that tone.
“It felt good to get the ball rolling in the right direction for our squad,’’ Price said.