Royals-Rays Preview

(AP) — David Price is putting together a Cy Young-caliber season for the Tampa Bay Rays, but all he is concerned with is the team’s win column.

Price looks to become the majors first 17-game winner Tuesday night when the Rays continue their series against the Kansas City Royals.

Price (16-4, 2.39 ERA) is tied for the major league lead in wins and his ERA tops the AL.

The left-hander is 8-0 with a 1.72 ERA over his last 11 starts. He allowed three hits and struck out eight in seven innings of a 7-0 win over the Los Angeles Angels on Thursday.

“I’m not worrying about any individual numbers or anything like that,” Price said. “I’m just trying to help us every five days get to the postseason, and we’ll take it from there.”

Price, who has a 1.82 ERA at home, will face Kansas City for the first time since a relief appearance in 2010. He’s also made two starts against the Royals, allowing three runs and nine hits over 13 innings.

He’ll be looking to help the Rays (68-54) win their sixth straight. After a weekend sweep of the Angels over the weekend, they won Monday’s series opener 5-1.

Jeremy Hellickson pitched seven strong innings, Jeff Keppinger homered and Desmond Jennings had a double, a triple and an RBI.

“It all started with the pitching,” manager Joe Maddon said. “I think (Hellickson) set the tone. He was sharp.”

The Rays have won 12 of 14 with strong offense as well as pitching, averaging 6.1 runs while posting a 2.29 ERA during that stretch, which has coincided with Evan Longoria’s Aug. 7 return from the disabled list. The surge has pulled them within four games of the AL East-leading Yankees – the closest they’ve been since late June.

Tampa Bay continues to get healthier, as designated hitter Luke Scott (strained right oblique) expected to rejoin the team Tuesday. Scott, who was placed on the disabled list July 21, was hitting .225 with 12 homers and 45 RBIs before the injury.

While the Rays continue to roll, Kansas City (54-67) failed to capitalize on the momentum from a weekend sweep of Chicago. The Royals scored 18 runs and hit .340 in that three-game series, but managed seven hits Monday while grounding into two double plays.

“We’re playing well, but it’s a tough place to play and they’re playing very, very well,” manager Ned Yost said. “Their starting pitching’s outstanding.”

Alcides Escobar had an eight-game hitting streak snapped as he went 0 for 4 including a double-play grounder in the series opener. He had gone 7 for 9 with three doubles, a homer and five runs scored in a sweep of the Rays in June.

Royals starter Luke Hochevar (7-11, 5.24), who will try to avoid a third straight loss.

Hochevar bounced back in his last outing after giving up seven runs at Baltimore on Aug. 10, but didn’t get any run support. He allowed three runs and four hits – two homers – in seven innings of a 3-0 loss to Oakland on Thursday.

The right-hander is 2-2 with a 5.72 ERA against Tampa Bay, but pitched a seven-hitter in an 8-0 victory over the Rays on June 25, his lone complete game of the season and his second career shutout.