Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
The 2013 Tampa Bay pitching staff is mired in mediocrity, yielding 4.34 runs per game (16th best) with a 4.11 ERA which is only good enough to rank 21st in the majors this season.
This after the Rays' pitching staff of 2012 was easily the best in baseball, giving up a major-league low 3.56 runs per game with a 3.19 ERA.
Of course, this staff has a much different make up than last year after the team traded away veteran innings-eater James "Big Game" Shields and Wade Davis to the Kansas City Royals for up-and-coming outfielder Wil Myers.
In May, disaster struck as 2012 AL Cy Young winner David Price went down with a triceps injury after pitching horribly over his first nine outings (1-4, 5.24 ERA, 1.44 WHIP).
More problems followed as 25-year-old Alex Cobb (6-2, 3.01 ERA, 1.16 WHIP) was struck in the head by a line drive and sidelined indefinitely.
But there is a small ray of hope that this once mighty staff can be good again.
Price is scheduled to return to the mound on Tuesday night.
If the left-hander, who returns to face the lowly Houston Astros, is the guy who went 20-5 last season with a 2.56 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and a 2.900 SSRD360, then the Rays will have a chance to rebuild their staff and regain their stature.
If Price is the talented superstar pitcher once again, then the rest of the pieces fall into place.
Talented youngsters Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore, who have pitched well for the Rays and fantasy owners, won't have the burden of leadership and instead can relax and follow Price's example in the rotation.
Cobb, who was seen playing catch last week, could return after the All-Star break.
And the team could ditch Robert Hernandez (aka Fausto Carmona) and his ugly 4-9, 4.98 ERA record. They could use 23-year-old Jake Odorizzi (6-1, 3.23 ERA at Triple-A Durham) or continue to start 24-year-old Chris Archer as the No. 5 man.
But it all begins with Price.
Price blossomed into a fantasy stud in 2010, going 19-6 with a 2.72 ERA and 1.193 WHIP. He was still a solid pitcher in 2011 despite a below-average 12-13 record and was one obviously one of baseball's best last season while winning pitching's highest honor.
This season, however, he yielded three or more earned runs in six of nine starts before going on the disabled list. His fastball, according to PITCHf/x was down from an average of 95.5 mph last season to 92.8 mph. Fortunately, that was April and May, and after a month and a half on the sidelines, Price is anxious to take the mound.
"I feel good ... I'm ready to go," Price said after throwing five shutout innings last Wednesday in his second rehab start.
Fantasy owners and Rays fans hope to see the turnaround beginning Tuesday night.
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