Rays’ Price aims to be baseball’s top pitcher

David Price isn’t content with being one of the best pitchers in

the American League.

Tampa Bay’s hard-throwing, young left-hander won 19 games while

helping the Rays win the AL East for the second time in three

years. Now, he’s eager to build on the success he had during his

first full season in the major leagues.

The 25-year-old finished second in the 2010 AL Cy Young

balloting behind Seattle’s Felix Hernandez, setting club records

for wins, ERA, opponents batting average and winning percentage. He

allowed three earned runs or less in 28 of 31 starts and also

became the youngest pitcher to start an All-Star Game since Dwight

Gooden in 1986.

And while Price enjoys hearing his name mentioned in discussions

about the top pitchers in the AL, he wants more.

”Absolutely. It’s not just about the American League. I want to

be the best pitcher in baseball, period,” the first overall pick

in the 2007 draft out of Vanderbilt said.

”If you’re the best pitcher in baseball, you’re the best

pitcher in the world. I feel like that’s something you can smile

about. Whether it’s in the American League or the National League,

I want to be the No. 1 guy in baseball. That’s what I play the game

for.”

Price reported to spring training this week, embracing his role

as the lead starter in a talented rotation that is being counted on

to help the Rays remain competitive after losing several key

players via free agency and trades.

He began last season as the No. 4 starter but quickly

established himself as the ace of a staff that became the first

since 1900 to feature five pitchers who finished with at least 12

wins and 100 strikeouts.

The 6-foot-6, 225-pounder was 8-1 in 13 starts following a Rays

loss, and his ERA of 2.72 was the lowest among AL left-handers.

Manager Joe Maddon expects Price, 0-2 against Texas in the

playoffs with both losses coming at home to Cliff Lee, to continue

to get better.

And while Maddon’s still hesitant to label Price as a ”No. 1”

starter along the lines of a Lee, Roy Halladay or CC Sabathia, the

manager said the young star is ”close” to being in that kind of

elite company.

”I think David likes that,” Maddon said of the pressure that

goes along with being the leader of a pitching staff.

”I think expectations have been a part of his normal routine

for the last several years. So any attempt at elevating

expectations on this guy, I don’t think he’s going to react to it

any differently. I think he likes it. I think he loves the role. He

wants all this other stuff piled on him, and I think you’re going

to see the same guy. I don’t think you’re going to see anything

different.”

Price had 12 wins against teams that finished with a winning

record a year ago, matching Boston’s Jon Lester for the most in the

majors.

In addition, he improved to 4-0 with a 1.79 ERA in seven career

regular-season starts against pitchers who have been Cy Young

winners.

He’s not satisfied, though.

”I can get better. I want to go deeper into games. By doing

that, it’s throwing less pitches every inning. By doing that, it’s

walking less guys, forcing early contact. Just being more efficient

with the way I pitch,” said Price, who’s also motivated by a sour

taste left by Tampa Bay’s loss to the Rangers in the opening round

of the playoffs.

”That’s like falling short in the World Series,” which the

Rays did in 2008, when Price was promoted to the majors in

September and wound up making a huge contribution out of the

bullpen, picking up his first big league save in the Rays’

pennant-clinching win over Boston in Game 7 of the AL Championship

Series.

”You’ve got that taste in your mouth. Now you want to get

back,” Price added. ”You learned what you had to do that year to

get to that point. Now you need to push yourself a little bit

harder to get that extra mile. I know what I need to do to get back

to that point, and that’s good.”

Price spent part of the offseason with his old pitching coach

from Vanderbilt, working on his slider. He also found some time for

a trip to Oklahoma to pick up the Warren Spahn Award, presented to

the top lefty in baseball based on a combination of wins,

strikeouts and ERA.

”To be rewarded for the hard work that you put in, that feels

good. To be able to take your family and friends along for that

ride is even better,” Price said.

”Last year was a ton of fun. We had a great team. I threw the

ball exceptionally well. I felt like, for the most part, I was very

consistent. That’s what I wanted to do, go out there every five

days and give us a chance to win. I felt like I did that.”