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HOU@TB: Price fans three in complete game effort

There's no denying the first half of the season did not go the way the Blue Jays had hoped it would.

After a major overhaul of the team's roster during the offseason, expectations were high. It seemed a 20-year playoff drought might finally come to an end.

However, the first half saw a lot more downs than ups for the Blue Jays, who enter Friday's second-half opener against the Rays with a 45-49 record.

"We know it's not going to be easy, because the division is so tough," shortstop Jose Reyes said. "But if we play consistent baseball and take it one game at a time, I think we'll be fine. We need to turn it around right away, because after the All-Star break, the season is going to go quick."

The Blue Jays leave the All-Star break 11 1/2 games behind the first-place Red Sox in the American League East and 8 1/2 behind the Rangers for the second Wild Card spot. Toronto is four games below .500, the franchise's worst record coming out of the break since 2004.

The Blue Jays will try to start turning around their season against the Rays, who have won 14 of their last 16 games and are coming off their best three-series homestand in franchise history.

The Rays will send David Price to the mound, making the Blue Jays' challenge even more difficult.

Like the Blue Jays, Price's season didn't begin the way the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner would have liked, as he spent more than a month on the disabled list. But since his return, the left-hander has looked like his dominant self.

"I'm not going to say that I lost [confidence] earlier in the season, but I feel good," Price said. "I feel I'm where I need to be right now, and the team is confident in everybody's abilities."

Even more impressive has been Price's efficiency. He's thrown two straight complete games, allowing only three earned runs while striking out 18 in 25 innings since his return.

"There's never been a time in my life where I've been that efficient," Price said. "I've always really considered myself a power pitcher that wants to get strikeouts, and to be able to go deep in games, you have to forget about strikeouts. I still know I can strike people out. I'll take more innings than strikeouts any day."

Price will oppose Esmil Rogers, whose development into a starter has been one of the better storylines out of Toronto this season.

Rogers has been the most consistent Blue Jays starter of late. The 27-year-old has a 3.27 ERA as a starter, with one tough start in which he allowed seven earned runs against the Tigers inflating that mark.

Rogers last took to the mound against Cleveland on July 10 and took a no-decision, despite pitching six innings of one-run ball, allowing only four hits and three walks with seven strikeouts.

"I think the key for today was the first-pitch strike," said Rogers. "I attacked the zone after the first two innings and I got a good outing after that."

Blue Jays: Reyes thinks Lawrie will have no problems at second
Reyes thinks Brett Lawrie's transition from third base to second base won't be too difficult for the athletic infielder.

"I think for him, the transition is not going to be too hard, because he used to play second base," Reyes said. "It's different when you go there for the first time and you don't know what's going on. I don't see a big deal."

Although Reyes admits the in-season transition may be a little tougher than if it had happened during Spring Training, Lawrie played plenty of second base in the Brewers' Minor League system.

"You don't have too much time to learn, because it's all about winning on the field," Reyes said. "It's not about a learning process. We're trying to do something, we're trying to win here."

Lawrie hasn't had a ton of opportunities to field the ball in his first two games at second base, and he has gone 1-for-8 at the plate.

Rays: Cobb throws batting practice
• Right-hander Alex Cobb, recovering from a concussion, threw batting practice session Thursday in Port Charlotte, Fla. It was Cobb's second time taking the mound, as he threw to hitters shortly before the Rays' first-half finale Sunday at Tropicana Field.

"There's no shyness of the ball coming back to me," said Cobb, who sustained the injury when he was hit in the head by a line drive June 15. "I'm happy with that."

There's no timetable for the 25-year-old right-hander's return, although he will need to go out on a rehab assignment before returning to the Rays' rotation.

"It's amazing how quickly you forget how to pitch, and once batters get in there, the intensity goes up a little bit," Cobb said Sunday. "Body parts start flying in different directions that you aren't used to and it takes a little while to get settled down. Toward the end of my session right there, it got a lot better. I was happy with it."

• Right-hander Brandon Gomes pitched a scoreless inning for the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League Rays on Wednesday, allowing no hits or walks while striking out one batter. Gomes has been out more than two months due to a right lat strain.

Worth noting
• Rays starters have delivered 15 consecutive quality starts, surpassing the previous club high of nine set in 2010.

• The Rays are 34-17 when playing outside the AL East, but only 20-24 against division rivals. They are 5-5 against the Blue Jays.

"This division, it's how this thing works," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "It's like that. It's always going to be like that. We embrace it. We have to do better against the East. We are under .500 against the [AL] East right now.

"If we come out of the break, hold our own, get this thing rolling again in the right direction, we can make a lot of noise in the second half."

• The Blue Jays are 25-21 at Rogers Centre this season.

• In 18 games since coming off the disabled list, Reyes is batting .286 with three homers and seven RBIs.

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