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Price is right as Rays top Twins

Photo by Jesse Johnson / USA TODAY Tampa Bay starting pitcher David Price tosses the ball to first base for an out during the first inning against Minnesota on Saturday at Target Field in Minneapolis.

MINNEAPOLIS — Tampa Bay pitcher David Price made a scary confirmation for the rest of the baseball world Saturday night following a 5-1 Rays win over the Minnesota Twins.

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After Price pitched eight shutout innings, looking sometimes dominant and simply unhittable at other points, Rays manager Joe Maddon said he thought Price looked about as good as he did in 2012 when he won the American League Cy Young Award.

Price went one step further.

“I’m throwing the ball better,” Price said. “I said that a month and a half ago, six or seven starts ago. I’ve never been the pitcher I am right now. It’s awesome, it’s cool, I enjoy it. I want to get better every day and I’m constantly looking for things to critique and give hitters something else to think about.”

Price gave the Twins plenty to think about Saturday, scattering only four hits while striking out nine and walking none in winning his 10th game of the year and dropping his ERA to 3.06. He has pitched at least eight innings in eight of his last 11 starts.

“You give him runs and you see what he can do,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “Price was unbelievable. He had great stuff tonight with all of his pitches. He just dominated us.”

Price said he felt good in the bullpen before the game but struggled to get comfortable in the first inning. It wasn’t until the third that he said he found his groove.

“Everything stems for me off my fastball,” Price said. “If I can have that going, the first couple of innings, that opens up a lot of doors for me.”

By the time Price found his zone, the Rays were already ahead 3-0 thanks to a three-run second inning.

Twins starter Phil Hughes allowed back-to-back singles to start the inning but forced the second of five double plays to nearly escape unscathed. However, Rays catcher Jose Molina slapped an RBI single to right and designated hitter Sean Rodriguez, the No. 9 batter, followed with a two-run blast into the second deck in left to give Price all the support he needed.

“I thought Sean might have a decent day today,” Maddon said. “We had eight or nine hits out of the bottom four guys and all five RBIs, so they did a nice job again.”

Hughes settled in after the rough second inning, aided by the five double plays turned behind him — one shy of the Twins’ franchise record. He faced only 13 hitters in the next four innings before running into more trouble in the seventh. Tampa took advantage of a walk and a single to start the inning, scoring two more runs on a sacrifice by Molina and an RBI single by Rodriguez.

Until then, Hughes had a quality start, but his final line was ugly — five earned runs, 11 hits with a walk and a strikeout. The loss dropped him to 10-6 this season, and after a lights out May in which he went 3-0 with a 1.62 ERA, Hughes has allowed at least five runs in five of his last six starts.

“I battled as best I could,” Hughes said. “I didn’t really have much to work with tonight and I had to make some pitches in some situations where I normally wouldn”t have done that. I knew right off the bat I didn’t have much.

“A three-run second, you put yourself in a hole against one of the league’s best. That was the difference.”

Minnesota scored its only run in the ninth inning against Rays reliever Juan Carlos Oviedo, who hit a batter, walked another and gave up an RBI single to catcher Kurt Suzuki. Rays closer Jake McGee entered and worked a flawless two-thirds of an inning for his eighth save.