David Price has battled through early-season struggles and an extended stint on the disabled list to regain the form that has made him one of baseball's top pitchers.
Just when it seems Tim Lincecum has done the same, he's more often than not fallen back into a rut.
Price's Tampa Bay Rays host Lincecum's San Francisco Giants in a matchup of former Cy Young Award winners Saturday night.
As if going 1-4 with a 5.24 ERA through his first nine starts after winning the 2012 AL Cy Young wasn't bad enough, Price (6-5, 3.57 ERA) suffered a strained left triceps in a loss to Boston on May 15 that would land him on the DL for the next six weeks.
He's been stellar since his return, though, going 5-1 with a 1.68 ERA in six outings and tossing three complete games in his last five. He had completed four games in his previous 130 starts.
Price won his third straight outing after allowing one run and two hits in 7 1-3 innings of Monday's 2-1 win over the Red Sox. He retired the only batter he faced after being sent out following a 39-minute rain delay, a decision manager Joe Maddon regretted.
"The guy's way too important to the franchise, and he's way too important to himself to jeopardize it on July 29,' Maddon said.
Price hasn't faced the Giants, who never seem to know what they're going to get from Lincecum (5-11, 4.61).
The 2008 and '09 NL Cy Young winner has one win since beating Toronto on June 4, pitching a no-hitter while striking out 13 in a 9-0 victory at San Diego on July 13.
Lincecum, though, followed that gem by giving up eight runs in 3 2-3 innings of an 11-0 loss to Cincinnati on July 22. The right-hander then gave up two runs in seven innings while striking out 10 against the Cubs in a 2-1 defeat on Sunday.
"It's a shame we couldn't get him the win," manager Bruce Bochy said.
Inconsistency, though, has been nothing new for Lincecum, who is 1-6 with a 4.42 ERA despite 63 strikeouts in 55 innings over his last nine starts. He's made it through four starts without allowing an earned run this season, only to have gone 0-3 with a 9.14 ERA in the four outings immediately after those solid performances.
Lincecum will try to help deal the Rays (64-45) a third consecutive defeat after the Giants (49-59) took Friday's series opener 3-1. Brandon Belt broke out of a 1-for-19 slump by going 3 for 4 with a solo homer and an RBI triple in his first start since getting three days off to work on his swing.
"Mentally I've stayed in there pretty well,' Belt said. "There's just some things that I need to work on to tap into my ability a little more.'
Brandon Crawford followed Belt's triple with a two-run homer as San Francisco won its third straight after dropping eight of its previous nine.
Tampa Bay is on the verge of losing three straight for the first time since June 16-18 as its lineup has gone cold. The Rays' only run Friday came on Ben Zobrist's RBI single in the third after they mustered just three hits in a 7-0 loss to Arizona on Wednesday.
"There's an ebb and flow to the season; you get hot at some moments and sometimes you don't,' Maddon said.
Tampa had won 12 of its previous 13 at home prior to dropping the last two. The Giants have won six of eight on the road.
The Associated Press News Service
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