ST. PETERSBURG -- Had the Rays kept their starting rotation as it was before the All-Star break, Jeremy Hellickson would be starting Friday's game against Toronto.
Instead, it will be David Price -- the ace of the staff and last season's American League Cy Young Award winner -- taking the mound against the Blue Jays.
"The first game of a series is always a tone-setter," Price said. "Obviously if you win the first game of a three-game set, you just need one more to win the series and it takes a lot of pressure off everybody."
Price has been the model of efficiency since returning from the disabled list (left triceps strain) on July 2, going 2-1 with a 1.08 ERA over 25 innings and averaging just over 10 pitches per inning.
"It's been extremely good with the pitch count being so low and being able to go deep in games," Price said. "I want to go nine on every fifth day. I tell our trainers every time, 'See you after nine,' because that's my mindset. That's what I want to do."
As ecstatic as manager Joe Maddon is that his No. 1 starter has returned to form, he may be more excited about the peripheral effects of Price's return. Tampa Bay's starting pitchers have logged a team-record 15 consecutive quality starts.
Rookie starter Chris Archer threw his first career-complete game, a shutout over Houston on July 14, to send the Rays into the break and has a 0.86 ERA in the three starts since Price returned. It stood at 4.02 in the three starts prior to that.
"I really think the fact that David is back and pitching like he is, setting the example that he has, has helped Archie a lot, too," Maddon said.
Rays look to gain ground during 10-game road trip
ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays took care of business on their way into the All-Star break, winning 14 of their last 17 games, but none of those wins came over teams in the American League East.
That's all about to change as the Rays begin a 10-game road trip to Toronto, Boston and New York, cities where their 2 1/2-game deficit to the Red Sox for the division lead could grow or shrink in a hurry.
"We feel like we're within striking distance," second baseman Ben Zobrist said. "Everybody's been chasing Boston all year. They're a good team, and we're a good team. It's going to be a battle for all of our division the rest of the way. Nobody's a slouch."
Tampa Bay is closer to Boston in the divisional race now than it has been at any point since May 31 but the first-half numbers suggest this road trip could spell trouble.
The Rays were one of two teams, the other being the Blue Jays, to post a losing record within the division before the All-Star break. They were 20-24 against AL East opponents. The Red Sox did the most damage against their division rivals, going 23-15.
Manager Joe Maddon refused to look past Friday's game against Toronto, but outfielder Wil Myers, who made his Major League debut at Yankee Stadium on June 19, said the team's focus would be on winning each series.
"Could we go 10-0? Sure." Myers said. "Is it likely? Probably not, but we want to try to win every series we play, and if we win every series, we're going to have a pretty good record. That's our goal."
The last series the Rays lost? To the Red Sox at Fenway Park in mid-June.
Price, Maddon impressed with Moore's All-Star outing
ST. PETERSBURG -- Starter Matt Moore was one of four players absent from the Rays' optional workout at Tropicana Field on Thursday.
He did get some work, although not much, in New York for his first All-Star Game. Moore threw the fifth inning for the American League, retiring Carlos Gonzalez, Yadier Molina and Troy Tulowitzki on nine pitches.
"That's another check mark on the list of tremendous accomplishments, and I think when he comes back here to play, he will have more calmness and confidence about him," manager Joe Maddon said. "It benefits him and us."
Moore's locker-neighbor, David Price, cheered him on from home.
"You want him to put up a zero, but to have him look as comfortable and as confident as he did was great," Price said. "He did a tremendous job."
• Pitcher Alex Cobb threw a four-inning simulated game at the Rays' Spring Training facility in Port Charlotte, Fla., on Thursday.
• Releiver Brandon Gomes threw one inning for the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League Rays on Wednesday. He is scheduled to appear for Class A Charlotte on Saturday.
• Yunel Escobar participated in the team's workout Thursday after sustaining a mild right hamstring strain in the eighth inning of Sunday's game, and Maddon said the shorstop felt "pretty good."
Sam Strong is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.