Price shines in blazing debut

By Joe Smith, Times Staff Writer
Published March 9, 2008

TAMPA - RHP Matt Garza had just one caveat for his mid-game interview in the Rays clubhouse.

"Let's get this done quick," he said. "Price is up in a half-inning."

June's top overall pick, David Price, making his much-anticipated debut Saturday against the Yankees, simply stole the show. The 6-foot-6 southpaw wowed the Legends Field-record crowd by reaching the high 90s with his fastball.

He drew ooohs and aaahs from teammates glued to clubhouse TVs and baffled hitters who, as pitching coach Jim Hickey put it, "didn't really have much of a chance."

Price entered in the seventh, hitting his first batter, Francisco Cervelli, before striking out the next three. The 22-year-old, pitching in his first game in nine months, reached 99 mph, according to the YES Network with the Rays clocking him at 95-97 during his 17-pitch effort.

"That was the loosest I've felt in awhile," Price said. "I kept my emotions in check. That's easiest the greatest feeling ever."

As Price warmed up, several Rays regulars gathered around TVs in the clubhouse. "You could hear the glove pop from in here," LHP Brian Anderson said.

Cervelli got an up-close look.

"The first pitch was 95," he said. "But the second one ... was fire!"

Price then froze Shelley Duncan before getting Jason Lane and Wilson Betemit swinging.

"You throw like 98 and then throw that slider running in on you - you won't hit it," Betemit said. "You won't hit a pitch like that."

Price's performance was a big hit with manager Joe Maddon - who was "very impressed" - and catcher Hector Gimenez.

"He can bring the heat. His slider is outstanding," Gimenez said. "There's no doubt about him."

"It's all about his composure," Maddon said. "This was his first professional game, and he walks out there like he's pitching against Clemson on a Saturday."

ANDERSON IMPRESSES: Anderson, facing big-league hitters for the first time since 2005, said his one-inning effort "was everything I had hoped it would be."

Yes, that includes facing Alex Rodriguez as his first test after two Tommy John surgeries.

"If you're going to do it," he said, "do it right."

Anderson did well, giving up a hit to Rodriguez but retiring the next three batters while hitting the high 80s with his fastball, according to the Yes Network.

"That's what I call adrenaline, my friend," he said.

KAZ ON TRACK: Ace LHP Scott Kazmir will move to the next phase of his recovery from an elbow strain Monday when he throws a bullpen session.

That news came after Kazmir had another impressive day playing catch Saturday with head athletic trainer Ron Porterfield.

"His instructions to Kaz were to throw easily, and that didn't happen," Maddon said. "He just feels very good. It's very loose and free. He feels good."

Kazmir has made such progress since being sidelined Feb. 26 that the Rays are mapping out a schedule that could have him pitch the March 31 opener.

After the Monday bullpen session, he likely will throw another light bullpen session or a batting practice session midweek and make his spring debut Friday or March 15.

MISCELLANY: Garza performed well in his second start, throwing three innings of one-hit ball, walking two and striking out four. ... RHP Chris Mason rejoined the team after spending two days in North Carolina to be with his father, who had some health concerns but now is better. ... Notre Dame football coach Charlie Weis attended Saturday's game.

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@sptimes.com.