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Price aims to repeat success of last year, lead staff

Rays southpaw can be a kid off the field, but he's all business on the mound

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PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- David Price remembers what got him here, so he always packs extra socks.

The reigning American League Cy Young Award winner had a busy offseason, full of events that took place in venues from the east to west coasts. At times, the traveling made it difficult for him to keep up with his throwing regimen. No problem. He would simply go to his suitcase and grab a clean sock. With a baseball in his hand, he would place the sock over his left arm and proceed to throw into it. Pitchers call this drill "sock throws," and they can perform it anywhere -- holding the ball, winding up and firing over and over again.

"I just had to adjust to what I was doing," said Price about his offseason. "It's hard to throw in New York in a hotel when it's 25 degrees outside. I just had a ball and a sock and did sock throws. That's what I've learned from this organization. Something I did a lot more during this offseason. I feel like it has benefitted me. Because I feel better than I have in Spring Trainings in the past."

Price had a dominating 2012 season, posting a 20-5 mark with a 2.56 ERA in 31 starts. Don't expect anything less from the 27-year-old southpaw this season. He's way too competitive to rest on his laurels. He wants to be the best, as always, in everything he does.

"I know that he's very motivated," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "He's a very humble guy. When it comes down to it, he is probably very motivated to do it again."

For all of his success, Price has remained grounded. Those who have known him a long time might describe him as being anything from a "goof ball" to a "14-year-old in a 27-year-old's body," unless he's on the mound.

"He's been a kid his whole life," said Matt Buschmann, who has known Price since both were at Vanderbilt together. "I don't think he's ever going to change. Video games and baseball -- that's pretty much all he knows."

Buschmann called Price "awesome" for the way he has gracefully handled his success and remained the same guy he's always known.

"Because you see him when he first got to Vanderbilt, and he really hasn't changed a bit," Buschman said. "And knowing his family -- that's a testament to them. They kept him right where he was, and it's been great to see him progress the way he has and stay the same guy."

Clearly, Price is special. Evan Longoria noted that there's a different vibe any night he's the starter.

"He's the leader of our staff," Longoria said. "He's the guy that we look to when we're stuck in a rut, can't get anything going. He's the kind of guy you look to to really go out there and give you a quality start every time he goes out. There is a different level of confidence when he goes out on the mound."

And just like every time a Felix Hernandez or a Justin Verlander pitches, the promise of what might happen is always there.

"He's just really become such a polished pitcher that every time he does go out there, you feel like he could throw a no-hitter," Longoria said. "He has that kind of stuff, and he's that electric and that special."

Now that James Shields has moved on to the Royals, Price has become the de facto leader of the staff, a role he won't shy away from, but one that he doesn't necessarily feel has fallen directly on his shoulders.

"It's not just one person, it's our entire team," Price said. "We've all talked about [replacing Shields]. It's not up to one person to step up and try to fill James Shields' shoes. It's a team effort. It doesn't have to be a pitcher. A position player can go out there and fill his shoes a little bit."

Having issued that disclaimer of sorts, Price addressed how he has suddenly become one of the elder members of the staff and how he's more than happy to help anyone seeking his help.

"It all happened so fast," Price said. "You don't even think about it. But it is cool. I have a little bit of time in the league now, and I have quite a bit in comparison to our team. They know I'm an open book. They can call me or text me whenever they want. And they know I'm here for them."

Price allowed that the pitching staff having a repeat performance anywhere near what it did in 2012 could be difficult.

"We had a historic pitching staff last year," Price said. "I read where we had the ninth-best bullpen in Major League Baseball, and that's forever. So it's pretty cool to be able to have a year like that, and be a part of this. We're all going to come out here, and try and pitch a little better than we did last year and hopefully have some better results."

As for Maddon, he likes Price just the way he is.

"Even though he's got Cy in his bedroom now, I don't want him to change anything," Maddon said. "I just want him to be himself. He'll continue to grow."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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