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TB@HOU: Price on returning from DL, outing vs. Astros

HOUSTON -- David Price returned to the mound in Cy Young form Tuesday, and Desmond Jennings had three hits, including a homer, drove in four runs and scored another as the Rays won for the seventh consecutive time at Minute Maid Park.

Price (2-4) was clocked at 96 mph on his fastball after missing 44 games with a left triceps strain, and he limited the Astros to three hits over seven innings in an 8-0 win. He threw 70 pitches in his return, 48 of those for strikes, and did not allow an Astros hitter past first base.

It was the fourth straight victory for the Rays and seventh in their last nine games, during which time the pitching staff allowed 16 total runs.

"That's probably the best I've felt on a baseball field maybe in my entire life," Price said. "I felt like that's the most control I've had of a baseball game in a very long time. I think that was better than I threw the ball really at any point last year."

Price faced just one batter over the minimum in his seven innings on the mound.

"We were mixing it up well," he said. "That's what [catcher Jose Molina] does. He is who he is because he has the time, and he pays attention. He makes it a lot easier for me. I didn't have to shake much. We were on the same page, and we had some good results."

A double play and a pick-off erased two of the three batters that reached base off Price.

"It was awesome; it was what I needed," Price said. "I can't speak enough about the defense tonight and the early runs, it makes it a lot easier to just go out there and do your job."

Astros third baseman Matt Dominguez appeared as awed by Price's performance as anyone.

"He was throwing hard and throwing in and out and hitting his spots; that's a damn good pitcher," Dominguez said.

Houston manager Bo Porter echoed the sentiment: "That's why he's a Cy Young winner, and he pitched like it tonight."

Price said he was not surprised by the performance. "Absolutely not," he said. "I hold myself in the highest regard, and I want to throw a perfect game every time I go out there. I feel like that's just myself doing a job."

However, he did say there were butterflies early and that his legs "didn't stop shaking until I got back to the dugout after that first" inning.

After a 1-4 start to the season, Price said he felt like going on the disabled list was actually a blessing in disguise.

"It let me regroup with everything mentally," he said. "I put more pressure on myself than anyone could."

Rays manager Joe Maddon was perhaps the happiest in the clubhouse to see Price perform at the highest level.

"I loved the focus; he wasn't over-amped," Maddon said. "He was under control emotionally. He went out and did what he wanted to do. He executed. He was on top of his game. It was really fun to watch."

Maddon said he could have gone longer with Price but did not want to push it.

"He was highly efficient," Maddon said. "We felt like after the seven innings that would be enough, just physically, on him. He could have pitched longer. But based on everything that led up to this particular moment, we decided to do that.

"He had great stuff, command of everything, under control emotionally, spectacular. The anchor is back."

After producing 12 runs in Monday's series opener, the Rays wasted little time getting back to it Tuesday. Jennings stroked a line single up the middle on the first pitch of the game from Astros starter Erik Bedard (3-4).

Sean Rodriguez followed with a walk, and both runners moved up when Ben Zobrist lofted a long fly ball to center field. In his first at-bat since Friday, Evan Longoria walked to load the bases before Wil Myers lifted a sacrifice fly to score Jennings, and the Rays had a 1-0 lead.

Ten of the Rays' 12 runs Monday were scored with two outs, and in the fourth inning Tuesday they piled on to that. James Loney extended his hitting streak to 13 games with a one-out single, and Jose Molina followed with a walk.

Both runners advanced when Kelly Johnson grounded out to the right side and Jennings bounced a two-run single past the glove of Astros second baseman Jose Altuve. Loney scored, and Molina rumbled home behind him as the throw from Houston right fielder Jimmy Paredes was well up the third-base line, and the Rays led by 3-0.

Jennings did not wait for two outs to launch his 10th homer of the year, a two-run no-doubter to right field in the sixth inning. Molina, who opened the inning with a double, scored in front of Jennings to put the Rays up, 5-0.

Getting Jennings to be more selective at the plate is what Maddon said made the difference.

"He's been working on that very diligently," Maddon said, adding "he is swinging at strikes, taking balls, better at-bats because of that."

Jennings said he was happy to help the offense and take some pressure off of Price.

"It felt good; I came up with some good situations," Jennings said. "I've been seeing the ball well. Hopefully we can keep it going. We've all been hitting the ball pretty well."

Jennings also collected his 10th stolen base of the year, becoming just the fifth American League player this season to reach the 10-homer, 10-steal plateau.

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