ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — David Price flashed a slight smile when asked about the closure that will come soon. It was Tuesday afternoon in the Tampa Bay Rays clubhouse at Tropicana Field, the hours ticking toward the non-waiver trade deadline.
By 4 p.m. Thursday, Price will learn his destination, much to his relief.
"Yeah, I guess so," he said. "It’s here. So I guess we’ll have some answers here in the next couple days. We’ll see how it goes."
Many are eager to see. The ace left-hander has been a constant in trade discussions throughout recent months, the chatter gaining volume with the Rays’ slide to a season-worst 24-42 after play June 10. Tampa Bay’s 28-12 rally since June 11 has changed the narrative about Price’s once-seemingly certain departure. Now there’s doubt that he will be moved at all, with the Rays entering Tuesday’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers seven games back of the Baltimore Orioles in the American League East and a manageable 4 1/2 games behind the Toronto Blue Jays for the second AL wild-card spot.
"I’ll just continue to be the same person at the field every day," Price said. "This is what I love to do. … Just go out here, throw it hard, try to give my team a chance to win every fifth day. Hopefully, it’s in a Rays uniform in two starts."
There’s still a possibility that Price could be moved, even with the Rays’ surge. But with the addition of Boston Red Sox left-hander Jon Lester to the trade market, interested contenders could look beyond Price for elite starting pitching.
Still, it’s hard not to notice how the Rays’ charge has come just as dealing Price was viewed as a certainty. Questions about what the development means for the front office’s plans are understood. Price, who’s 11-7 with a 3.08 ERA in 22 starts this season, said he thinks the rally has had an impact.
"Eighteen games under .500 and 15 games out of first place, and we cut that in half," Price said. "And I think we’re close to .500 baseball right now. So it’s definitely impacted what we’ve been doing and what the front office is wanting to do with me and a couple other guys. Just go win today and see what happens."
Price, who makes $14 million this season, won’t become a free agent until after the 2015 campaign. He has been stellar of late, striking out at least 10 in five consecutive starts from June 4-25. He enters his appearance Wednesday with a 5-0 record, a 1.36 ERA and 39 strikeouts in five July starts.
"I know nobody in this clubhouse wants me to leave," he said. "I don’t think we’ve been going out and playing games with the mind-set that we need to win so I can stay. That’s the last thing I want these guys doing, and I know we haven’t been doing that. If you do that, you’re just applying a little more pressure on yourself."
Still, Rays manager Joe Maddon said the questions about Price’s future could have sparked the team. The Rays, entering Tuesday, had won 10 of their last 11 games.
"It may," Maddon said. "I can’t deny that. I know that I normally have a meeting with the team at the All-Star break, but I didn’t do that this year. I had it about a month before the All-Star break. … We talked about a lot of things, and I clearly challenged them to, ‘Let’s just do something that’s never been done before.’"
HANIGAN, MYERS UPDATES
Catcher Ryan Hanigan, on the disabled list with a left oblique strain since July 17 (retroactive to July 9), was thought to make his first rehab appearance for High-A Charlotte on Wednesday. But Maddon said Hanigan’s schedule has been pushed back, and a return for the upcoming three-game series against the Los Angeles Angels that begins Friday is unlikely.
Hanigan took batting practice Tuesday, but Maddon said the catcher felt some pain afterward. A return for a three-game series against the Oakland Athletics from next Monday to Wednesday is possible.
"Still a little bit sore, but nothing awful," Maddon said. "So Ronnie (head athletic trainer Ron Porterfield) wants to back off just a little bit."
"It was the first two days I’ve really taken swings in about 2 1/2 weeks," Hanigan said.
Outfielder Wil Myers, meanwhile, said he will learn his rehab schedule Friday with batting practice to come Saturday. He’s expecting a mid-August return after being on the disabled list with a sprained right wrist since June 1 (retroactive to May 31).
BOXBERGER A VALUABLE PART OF BULLPEN
One of the most pleasant surprises for the Rays this season has been the emergence of reliever Brad Boxberger. The right-hander, who’s 2-1 with a 2.11 ERA and 66 strikeouts this season, entered Tuesday with 13 consecutive scoreless appearances since June 29.
Boxberger, acquired in a seven-player trade with the San Diego Padres last January, leads all major-league relievers with a .081 opponent average (5 for 62) against left-handed batters.
One of the main reasons why: His ability to vary speeds on many of his pitches. He said it’s a skill he has tried to hone over time.
"It’s just something I’ve been working on and everyone has been working on," he said. "Being able to change speeds is part of the game. The more you can change speeds and keep hitters off-balance, especially when they’re the best hitters around, (it) definitely helps in your advantage to be able to get them out in the end."
— It’s no surprise that pitching has become one of the Rays’ strengths in their recent run, and the numbers back up the development. During their 10-1 spurt, Rays pitchers produced a 1.45 ERA. The bullpen alone posted a 0.69 ERA in 26 innings in the span.
— Random but true: Rays pitchers have 193 more strikeouts than Rays hitters, the largest gap in the majors. Tampa Bay pitchers have a major-league-best 935 strikeouts. Tampa Bay hitters, meanwhile, have struck out 742 times, the sixth-fewest total in the majors.
— After some early confusion, "Augtember" is the proper spelling of Maddon’s chosen way to describe an early form of pennant race baseball.