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08/15/10 11:22 AM ET

Lee vs. Price leads off Rangers-Rays set

It is pop quiz time in St. Petersburg. The Rangers pull in for the opener of a three-game series against the Rays as two teams test each other in a potential preview of a postseason matchup.

But that isn't the primary exam on Monday's docket.

Cliff Lee against David Price, in a thrown-down showdown between premier southpaws? The way Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon sees it, this is a test of fans' hearts.

"If you're a baseball fan," Maddon said, "you've got to be digging on this game. I don't see how you can't. For me, I'd love to see our first Monday night sellout without a giveaway. If you're a real baseball afficianado, it doesn't get much better than those two lefties going after it."

In one corner, you've got a veteran with fine precision. Lee has a season total of seven unintentional walks in 161 1/3 innings.

In the other corner, you've the young top winner in Rays history. Price's 15th win in his last start set the club single-season record, and he has had a couple extra days of rest since that victory in Detroit last Monday.

Pitchers tend to like clockwork, so the extra rest could be a pitfall. In his brief career, Price is 3-2 in seven starts on six days' rest, with a 5.15 ERA.

"I'm sure there are numbers going into this," Price conceded. "I guess some people might be better on five days' [rest], six days' [rest], seven days' [rest] -- I really have no idea. It's good to have that rest every now and then."

Price sensed he is in for a taut duel. He paid Lee a compliment.

"He's the real deal," Price said. "Everybody here knows that, and everybody in baseball knows that. He's tough. When he's pitching against you, he's pretty tough on that offense, so you've got to know as the opposing pitcher that you've got to come in with your 'A' game. That's what I'm looking to do. I want to go deep into the game and give us a chance to win."

The Rays have had misleading success this season against Lee. They handed him his first two losses, but both meetings were in early May when Lee was still searching for rhythm with the Mariners after having missed the first month with an abdominal strain.

Even amidst its offensive struggles, Tampa Bay has closed within a game of the American League East-leading Yankees on the strength of pitching. The Rays could get a big bat back for Monday's game when first baseman Carlos Pena becomes eligible to come off the DL. He's been out since July 31 with a right foot sprain.

Rangers: Lee under control
Another amazing Lee statistic: He has faced 134 left-handed batters and hasn't issued a walk to any of them. ... Nelson Cruz is not expected to be with the team for the series opener. He remained in Arlington to undergo an MRI to assess the severity of the latest injury to his hamstring.

Rays: Niemann, Davis close to returning
Both Tampa Bay righties on the DL with strained shoulders -- Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis -- are slated to throw bullpen sessions Monday, with hopes they can rejoin the rotation before the end of the month.

Worth noting
The Rangers finished their week hosting the other AL East heavies by going 3-2 against the Yankees and the Red Sox. They scored six late runs to break open Sunday's 7-3 victory over Boston after four consecutive one- or two-run games.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.