PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Left-hander David Price will start the season in the Minor Leagues.

The Rays top prospect headed a list of five players optioned to Triple-A Durham on Wednesday night.

Joining Price were outfielder Justin Ruggiano, outfielder/infielder Elliot Johnson, catcher John Jaso and infielder Reid Brignac.

"We have obviously spent a lot of time talking about this," said Andrew Friedman, Rays executive vice president of baseball operations. "When we came into camp, we came in with an open mind, knowing full well that there were certain developmental issues that we wanted him to focus on and also the workload. And just the increase and how we're going to monitor that.

"We had a lot of conversations about ways to get creative. And went through it for the last two or three weeks at length and ultimately decided that -- all things considered -- that this was the right move for David and in turn the organization."

Price, 23, looked upset, but remained composed while meeting with reporters after the announcement.

"It's just, I don't know, I haven't really thought about it a whole lot right now," Price said. "Probably a couple of days, I'll have some feelings about it, but right now it kind of stings a little bit."

Jeff Niemann and Jason Hammel now are the remaining candidates for the fifth spot in the rotation, which didn't seem likely given the way Price stood out during the 2008 postseason when he worked out of the Rays' bullpen.

Particularly memorable was his outing against the Red Sox in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series. Boston was threatening when he entered the game in the eighth inning to face J.D. Drew with two outs and the bases loaded. Price delivered an 89 mph slider on the outside part of the plate for strike one, which led to an inning-ending strikeout. He then got the final three outs in the ninth to preserve the win, earn a save, and propel the Rays to their first World Series.

The talented left-hander went 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA in 2 1/3 innings in three ALCS appearances, claiming the win in Game 2, and he went 0-0 with a 2.70 ERA in two World Series appearances.

All told, Price threw 139 1/3 innings in 2008 (including Minor League and Major League playoffs), which also factored into Wednesday's decision as the Rays are cognizant of the wear they place on a young pitcher's arm.

According to Friedman, Price's workload can be better monitored during the early part of the season at Durham rather than in the Major Leagues. He stressed that the Rays want Price to be ready and able for use in the latter part of the season.

"As we've demonstrated in the past, we're very dogmatic when it comes to our young pitchers and building them up," Friedman said. "And we were in a different position in '06 and '07, when we could shut guys down near the end of seasons and not have it present a problem.

"But we're in a different situation now. We have expectations and hopes of playing in October, and we feel like we'll be a better team with David as a part of that and also continuing to work on the developmental things we've laid out as well."

The Rays want to see Price show better command of his fastball and to work on his pitch efficiency.

"Being able to get deep into games, which all comes back to being able to command his fastball at will," Friedman said. "The great thing about David is, whenever you lay a challenge in front of him, he exceeds your expectations and what you ask of him. And so that's something that we've laid out."

Price went 2-0 with a 1.08 ERA in three spring appearances and felt as though he improved on his changeup, which had been an item on the Rays' punch list for Price to fine-tune.

When asked if he showed an improved changeup, Price answered, "Absolutely."

"I think that's a non-issue," Price said. "That was way better than my slider, so I don't think that's an issue."

Price felt all along that he would be headed to Durham at the end of Spring Training, no matter what he did.

"I talked to my agent quite a bit, and he told me kind of what to expect," Price said. "So I came in and had fun. This is where I want to be, so have fun. It was a fun Spring Training, a great group of guys right here. Hopefully, I get to join them sooner or later."

Price nodded when asked if he understood the Rays' reasoning.

"Yeah, it's a business," Price said. "They have to look out for their best interest. If I was the owner of the team, I would be doing the same thing."

Hammel and Niemann are out of options, meaning that if the Rays want to keep both, they will have to make the team. Otherwise, it's likely one or both would be claimed by other teams if the Rays designated either trying to send them back to Triple-A Durham. Nevertheless, Friedman said the decision was a baseball decision and not one based on business.

Price said he needed a day or two to get the disappointment out of his mind, so he didn't plan on going to the field on Thursday.

"I'll probably go play golf," Price said.