5/7/2014 8:12 P.M. ET
AL East shaping up to be tight race
By Bill Chastain / MLB.com
ST. PETERSBURG -- Entering Wednesday night's action, just 2 1/2 games separated the top team in the AL East, the Orioles, from the last place team, the Rays.
Under the current division format (since 1994), this is only the fourth time a division has been separated by 2.5 games top to bottom on May 7. The others were the NL West in 2001, the AL West in 1999 and the NL Central in 1996.
The Rays are not off to the start they hoped, but despite their start, they are not in a bad position.
"A lot of us being in a good spot is the fact that the whole division, nobody is running away with it," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "That's makes it somewhat easier. ... Of course we expect to play at a higher standard than we have to this point. We expect to have a better record than we do at this point. ... We want to get back to .500 first and then start building over .500."
This is the first time that the AL East did not have a team with 18 wins heading into games on May 7 since the current division format. And it is the first season since 1990 that the AL East leader has the lowest winning percentage on May 7 among other division leaders.
McGee throwing gas earlier than expected
ST. PETERSBURG -- Jake McGee has been pumping three-figure fastballs through the strike zone, which is no surprise to Rays fans since the left-hander has always thrown hard. What's surprising is that he has been hitting 100 mph this early in the season.
Normally McGee bites off a little more of the season before he's blistering the strike zone with his fastball.
"Yeah. I've been a little surprised," said McGee when asked about numbers his fastball has been registering thus far. "I was most surprised in Spring Training, because I'm usually like 91, 94 most of spring, then the last week I get my velocity.
"But earlier this spring, I was already throwing hard. So it's kind of nice to see that and maintain that each game. Even the low is 94 or 95, that's fine with me."
McGee noted that he didn't consciously try to get faster this season.
"No, I just wanted to be stronger every outing," McGee said. "I just don't want to go back to the outing where I'm 97 and the next day I'm 91 and 93. I just want to maintain my consistency with my velocity."
McGee did allow that he focused his offseason workouts on his legs.
"I did more leg workouts," McGee said. "I did [the workouts] a few times a week. Focused on more weight for the legs. And gained strength in the area and balance, too."
Joe Maddon has his own theory about McGee reaching the velocity he's at so early in the season. The Rays manager called it his "weird analyzation of this."
McGee "stopped trying to throw a slider and a cutter and went back to the more conventional curveball," Maddon said. "And I think part of the reason the arm strength came back is because he's not trying to manipulate the ball in a way that he's not used to."
Maddon noted that he's seen a lot of young pitchers adopt a cutter when they don't need one and it takes away velocity from their fastball.
"The fact [McGee has] gone back to more of how he grew up type of pitching," Maddon said. "It probably took some stress off his arm in a way that his fastball is more electric right now."
So, given the fact that McGee has reached a high of 100.7 mph this season -- this early -- how high can his velocity reach this summer?
"How do you say Chapman's first name, Aroldis, Aroldis Chapman," said Maddon mentioning Cincinnati's hard-throwing lefty before adding: "I'm happy with [McGee's] 96 to 98 located."
Price taking some pressure off Rays bullpen
ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays desperately needed their starter to pitch deep into the game Friday night after each of the starters in Thursday's doubleheader went just 4 2/3 innings.
The team left Boston ecstatic to have swept the Red Sox in a twin bill, but the bullpen paid the price, running on fumes after working a lot of extra innings.
Under those conditions, David Price took the ball and pitched seven strong innings Friday night against the Yankees, using 118 pitches and leaving with a 4-2 lead. Subsequently, the Yankees came back and Price received a no-decision, but the Rays won the game 10-5 in 14 innings.
Price is "good and he knows it," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "And he's never been one to run away from shouldering responsibility. ... This guy's always accepted weight. So none of that surprises me.
"He's not unique in that regard. There's a lot of pitchers on a lot of different teams that are that same kind of cat. He happens to be ours. I really appreciate all of that because it definitely makes a difference."
Price also is a pitcher who collects innings. Prior to last season when he missed a month while on the disabled list and finished with 186 2/3 innings, the Rays ace finished with 200-plus innings for three straight seasons. Maddon noted what a boost it is to have a pitcher with 200 innings.
"What difference does 200 innings make?" Maddon said. "Well, you can see what it does to a bullpen on a daily basis, giving you chances to win, the ability to win games. ... He's good and he knows it and he really shoulders the responsibility well."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.