Price strong as Rays beat Yanks

March 22, 2009 4:05:28 PM PDT
The Tampa Bay Rays aren't budging on their stance that a decision on where top pitching prospect David Price begins the season will not necessarily be based on the left-hander's spring training performance. The No. 1 pick in the 2007 amateur draft worked four scoreless innings in a 5-0 victory Sunday that snapped the New York Yankees' nine-game exhibition winning streak.

Ray Sadler homered and Yankees pitchers walked in three runs to help Tampa Bay beat a lineup missing most of New York's regulars.

Both teams' expected opening day starting pitchers saw action in minor league games, with Tampa Bay's James Shields going five innings in a Triple-A game in Port Charlotte and New York's CC Sabathia allowing one run and seven hits over five innings in a Triple-A game in Tampa.

Price, who made his major league debut at Yankee Stadium last Sept. 14, is competing for the fifth spot in a rotation that will also feature Shields, Scott Kazmir, Matt Garza and Andy Sonnanstine.

But after the 23-year-old pitched through the postseason in October, the Rays have brought Price along slowly this spring training and plan to keep tight reins on his innings this season.

Jason Hammel and Jeff Niemann are the other candidates to be the No. 5 starter, and it would not be a surprise for Price to begin the season at Triple-A Durham.

The hard-throwing lefty allowed three hits, walked two and struck out four Sunday, lowering his ERA to 1.08. Through three outings, including one start, he has yielded one run, six hits, walked six and struck out 10 in 8 1-3 innings.

"I'm still getting there. I don't feel like David Price right now. I haven't thrown a whole lot," Price said. "It's still going to be a process. It might take a couple of more starts, a couple of more outings. It's something I have to work with."

Price was 12-1 with a 2.30 ERA in 19 minor league starts last year. After appearing in five major league games in September, he made five relief appearances in the postseason and was on the mound when Tampa Bay's clinched the AL pennant.

He's still feeling his way through the spring training routine, particularly when he's not the starting pitcher.

"It kind of throws you off. You don't really know when to start warming up. You kind of have to pace yourself out there, you don't really know when you're going in," he said. "When you've got a start, you know you've got the ball the first pitch."

Rays manager Joe Maddon called Sunday another "good outing" for Price.

"The thing I liked again is he kind of struggled a bit in the first two inning regarding his command. But I thought he got better as we got to the third and the fourth inning. ... Again, David just competes. He's one of those guys that's always going to find a way to get it done."

It's the second straight year, the Rays face a difficult decision with one of their top prospects.

Third baseman Evan Longoria began the season in the minors last spring, was called up in April and went on to make the AL All-Star team and win AL rookie of the year honors.

Price said he'll be disappointed if the defending AL champs break camp, and he's not in the rotation.

"Absolutely. That goes for anybody in here," Price said. "You come in here because you can play, and this team likes you, and they want to get more looks at you. You get sent down, that's disappointing."

The pitcher's attitude doesn't surprise Maddon.

"I love it. Evan was the same way last year. That's the right way to be. We want all our young guys to be that way," Maddon said. "Regardess of the decision that is made, you know what kind of an attitude and the makeup that he has. That's what we're looking for."

Yankees starter Alfredo Aceves allowed one run and two hits in 2 2-3 innings. Steven Jackson walked in two runs in the third inning, and Kei Igawa walked Justin Ruggiano with the bases loaded in the seventh.

Sadler hit his homer off Jose Valdez in the eighth.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi said the competition for the starting role in right field between Nick Swisher and Xavier Nady is still ongoing.

"I think it's a little too early because there's still some health concerns with Hideki (Matsui)," Girardi said.

"You're not sure how this will play out. I am feeling better and better about him, his knees, but still once you have a knee problem you kind of always have them. Things usually sort themselves out. Hopefully everyone is healthy and then there's decisions we have to make and figure out we're going to make that work."

Notes: Rays CF B.J. Upton, who's recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, likely will miss at least the first week of the season after being hit by a pitch on the left hand during a minor league game Saturday. ... Yankees LHP Phil Coke (bruised thigh) is scheduled to pitch Monday. ... New York RHP Chien-Ming was pitch in a minor league game Monday. ... New York acquired C Chris Stewart from the Chicago White Sox for future considerations. Stewart appeared in one game for the Yankees last season, going 0-for-3 against Detroit on April 29. He batted .279 (76-for-272) with 19 doubles, two homers and 24 RBis for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.