ST. PETERSBURG -- When Jose Lobaton made the team out of Spring Training, many thought that Chris Gimenez should have earned the second catcher's spot, but he did not because he had options and Lobaton did not.
Lobaton is now playing like the Rays thought he could when they selected him off waivers from the Padres on July 30, 2009. Entering Monday night's game against the Red Sox, he was hitting .294 with two home runs and 13 RBIs. In addition, Lobaton has played solid defense; he has thrown out the last three attempted basestealers.
Manager Joe Maddon gave all the credit to executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and the Rays' scouting department.
"Because they had all the faith in the world that he would be looking like this," Maddon said. "When we got him a couple of years ago, everybody kept talking about ball-off-the-bat velocity. He's been doing that more consistently now. They talked about his throwing. They talked about overall defensive ability.
"The difference now is he believes that he belongs here, that's the major difference. But otherwise, I really believe you have to say that's great scouting on our part."
Maddon was asked if Lobaton will start to see increased playing time over veteran Jose Molina.
"To this point, I've been doing it primarily based on the other team's pitcher," Maddon said. "I think it's wise to continue along that same thought, because he's been successful to this point. To think that just by playing him more he's going to continue to be as successful, I'm not sure of that. We've been picking and choosing our spots with him.
"Ja-Mo is going to continue to keep catching, also, probably look for spots for Lobo a little more, maybe, but not necessarily auger it out. But just keep going the way we've been going to this point, because it's been successful."
Price: 'This is the best I've felt all year long'
ST. PETERSBURG -- David Price threw a 45-pitch bullpen session at Tropicana Field on Monday afternoon and said his arm feels the best it's felt all year.
The Rays' injured ace, on the disabled list since May 16 with a left triceps strain, said he threw all his pitches in the side session monitored by pitching coach Jim Hickey and head athletic trainer Ron Porterfield. From here, manager Joe Maddon said, Price will throw another bullpen session before pitching a simulated game and then advancing to Minor League rehab starts.
"Honestly, I'm totally as if [the injury] never happened. I feel that good right now," Price said. "This is the best I've felt all year long, including Spring Training. It feels 100 percent right now."
Maddon's timetable has Price in line for a return to Tampa Bay's rotation in late June or early July, and Price said he'll continue to be patient as he builds up arm strength. That said, Price noted immediately afterward that he felt like he could have pitched in a game Monday.
Price's repeated assertion that he felt better Monday than he had all year -- along with his 1-4 record and 5.24 ERA -- led to questions about whether he'd been pitching with an injury or if he had ever been at 100 percent following his 2012 American League Cy Young Award campaign. Price said he didn't feel bad, just that he "didn't feel normal" before he left his May 15 start against the Red Sox.
"It didn't bother me until really that game. I definitely felt other things, but it was nothing that limited the way that I pitch. I just wasn't making good enough pitches," Price said. "If that affects my ability to make pitches, then it did affect me. I don't think that was the case. I just wasn't very good at the time, so I feel very good right now. Looking forward to getting out there and facing real hitters. Today was a good day."
And that came as a huge relief to Price, who hopes to regain his usual form when he finally gets back on a big league mound.
"It is good. This is something we talked about as well. Whenever I come back, they want me to be able to come back and stay back and not just to come back to make a couple starts," Price said. "They want me to be here in August and September when the games are magnified by everybody and it gives us a chance to get into postseason baseball. That's our main goal, and that's what we're trying to do."
Shields won't face former team when Royals visit
ST. PETERSBURG -- James Shields will be returning to Tropicana Field this weekend for the first time since being traded to the Royals, but he won't be pitching in the four-game series that begins Thursday.
"Yeah, I'm a little disappointed," said Shields on Monday during a telephone interview. "It would have been nice to pitch."
Shields will start for the Royals against the Tigers on Wednesday, and he'll be opposed by Justin Verlander.
Shields started 217 games in seven seasons with the Rays, posting an 87-73 record with a 3.89 ERA. He went 47-31 with a 3.34 ERA in 110 starts at Tropicana Field.
"I'm glad to go back to the old roots, see the Trop for four days and hang out," Shields said. "Talk to fans, all the good stuff."
Shields is 2-6 with a 2.81 ERA, including a win over the Rays on April 30 in Kansas City.
"I've been pitching well," Shields said. "Unfortunately my record is 2-6, but we're starting to string together some wins right now."
Shields faced former teammate Carlos Pena over the weekend when the Royals played the Astros, which felt a little odd, as did facing the Rays earlier this season.
"It's definitely weird to face guys that you've played with for years," Shields said. "Once you get on the mound, though, you kind of just block it out. After you face them one time, the next time you don't think about it."
When asked about what he most looked forward to during his reunion at Tropicana Field, Shields again spoke of Rays fans.
"Just interacting with the fans," Shields said. "It's always good to see friends. ... It's going to be a good little trip."
The weekend series with the Royals will be the only meeting between the Rays and Royals at Tropicana Field this season, but there will be one final game between the teams when the May 2 game is made up. So the possibility exists that Shields will make one more start against his former team. When that was pointed out to Shields, he replied: "Yeah, but it won't be in [St. Petersburg]."
Farnsworth 'possible' DL candidate after leaving early
ST. PETERSBURG -- Rays reliever Kyle Farnsworth left Monday night's 10-8 loss to the Red Sox with right arm soreness.
Farnsworth pitched to only one batter in the five-hour, 24-minute game, striking out Dustin Pedroia on eight pitches in the 11th inning. Manager Joe Maddon said Farnsworth came into the dugout feeling some soreness in his elbow, so Maddon called on left-hander Cesar Ramos, the last reliever standing in Tampa Bay's bullpen, to start the 12th inning.
"I'm not going to send anybody out under those circumstances," Maddon said of Farnsworth.
It's "possible" the club could place Farnsworth on the disabled list before Tuesday's game, Maddon said, which would give it an opportunity to call up a fresh arm to bolster a bullpen that pitched a combined 10 innings Monday night.
Maddon said relievers Jake McGee, Joel Peralta and Alex Torres should be available to pitch Tuesday night against the Red Sox, and Jamey Wright is a possibility as well, but they will definitely need a long outing from starter Roberto Hernandez.
"It's possible," Maddon said. "We were starting to talk about some things. We're not horribly short."
Farnsworth owns a 6.75 ERA on the season, but he tossed a scoreless inning in each of his last two appearances.
Aiming for fences not part of Fuld's game
ST. PETERSBURG -- Sam Fuld connected for a two-run homer in the eighth inning of Sunday's 10-7 loss to the Orioles, giving the outfielder his first home run since May 27, 2011.
When asked about his blast on Monday, Fuld teased: "It's part of my game."
Despite the power outburst, Fuld understands that aiming for the fences is something that can be detrimental to his success.
"I'm never trying to [hit home runs]," Fuld said. "I think in the past, I think I got in trouble in college. I think that's the last time [I] got into trouble trying to hit too many home runs. You hit a couple and feel really good. I think during that period I really learned that it wasn't going to be a huge part of my game, but it was never going to be something I aimed to do."
Fuld did allow that "it's fun" when he does go deep.
"Anything that's that rare, is fun, whatever those 15 seconds around the bases are, it's hard to duplicate that feeling," Fuld said. "You feel kind of like you're floating. It must get old for the Longorias."
Fuld was asked if he should have milked his journey around the bases a little bit more, because he took long enough.
"I had to slow it down a little bit. I was catching up to [Jose] Molina," Fuld said. "I didn't want to get right on his heels."