Price is Alright
People are beginning to run theories and equations all over the web about what is going wrong with Rays uber prospect David Price since he came up to the Rays on May 25th. In his first start against the Cleveland Indians he lasted 3.1 innings, but the discussions were not about him losing that first start, but on the 5 walks he allowed against a team that is patient like the Rays at the plate. Price came up here basically anointed after the stellar performance he had for the Rays in the 2008 playoffs.
Fans were waiting for the Rays top prospect who during last season’s Spring Training predicted, or hoped he would be at the major league level by the end of the year. And his escalated move towards the Rays from Class-A ball to finally landing on the Rays roster seems a bit rushed at times. So the Rays did the prudent thing this Spring and decided he needed some polishing and work on his command before they were going to throw him into the fire with the big club. And that is pretty understandable, but the fans seemed to have other plans for the big leftie.
Now that Price has had 10 starts in the majors, and has come away with some positives and negatives, maybe this is a good spot to try and check the barometer on how Price’s early career wins and losses might effect him this season. We all know the guy can throw the ball with the best of them. You only have to look as far as his recent July 9th start against the Toronto Blue Jays at home to see what he is capable of at this level. In that contest he went toe-to-toe with American League uber starter Roy Halladay and held his own the entire game. The southpaw threw 6.1 innings of 6-hit 1-run ball and also posted 7 strikeouts during the afternoon game.
He started to show that with the pressure on high and tight he could be relied on to make the right pitches and be in the right frame of mind. But that might not have been the case during his first start on May 25th in Cleveland where he only lasted 3.1 innings and showed a small control problem by walking 5 patient Indians hitters. Most people remember this game as the one where the Indians came back and scored 11 unanswered runs, not for being Price’s first start in 2009. In the contest he started off a bit wild by walking lead-off man Jamie Carroll, and gave up a double to Grady Sizemore, but he gained his composure and struck out the side on 17 pitches after that and looked to be on the good road.
But in his first four inning lead-off situations in the Cleveland game he let three lead-off hitters on base. This was not the defining moment to the loss on that night, but it gave a small light to a situation he would have to watch and adjust to all the way to last night’s contest. From the May 25th game where he let 3 out of 4 lead-off hitter reach base, to last night when he let 5 out of the 6 lead-off men reach base, it was a slight flaw in his game plan that has derailed him before. In his win against the Blue Jays just before the All Star Break, Price let 3 out of the 6 lead-off batter get on base, but he adjusted and got the second man to the plate to either strike out or hit into a double play to take some of the pressure off him.
But unlike the Toronto game, last night against the White Sox he got victimized by the second and third hitters because of the pressure of the man on base. Last night during the third inning is a great example of what is happening to Price right now. He gave up a Ground Rule Double to Scott Podsednik to lead off the inning, then Alex Ramirez got a single to rightfield to put two men on base. Price did get Jermaine Dye to strike out, but then threw one strike to Paul Konerko before he turned on the next pitch and drilled it to leftfield for a 4-1 lead. Not to be lost in the shuffle is the fact that Podsednik did it to Price in the first inning too. He got Price to lead off the inning with a walk and after moving to third on a steal attempt and a throwing error by Michel Hernandez, he came in to score the first run of the game on Dye shallow fly ball to right field.
Twice in last night’s game the lead-off hitter,Podsednik was responsible for effectively getting on base and then scoring against Price. But this is not the first time this season that someone has had a big inning on the young leftie. We only have to go back to July 4th, in Arlington. Texas to see another example of a lead-off man wrecking havoc on a pitcher. In that game in the first inning the lead-off man for a change was not the culprit, but the next three in the order did ruin Price’s Independence Day. After lead-off man Ian Kinsler struck out, then Michael Young and Marlon Byrd in the space of ten pitches had both walked to put two men on base. Price then got a quick strike on Andrew Jone before he hit the next pitch into the leftfield stands for an early 3-0 Rangers lead.
Let’s throw another example out here before I try and seek or prognosticate some kind of reasoning here for the troubles. Price also had the same situation when the World Champion Philadelphia Phillies came to town during the Inter League schedule this year. In that June 23rd contest during Price’s 4.1 innings of work 3 out 5 of the Phillies lead-off men got on base against him. But to his credit, two of those men, Jimmy Rollins in the first inning, and John Mayberry in the third inning got on base because of defensive errors.
But again it was a case of some early first inning problems that initially got Price in this game. After Rollins got on after a Evan Longoria error, Shane Victorino walked and Chase Utley made him pay with a double to deep centerfield that scored both men. In this start, the two runs in the first inning were enough to put Price on the losing end of the contest. In this game the Rays would eventually lose 10-1, with Price being hit for all 10 earned runs. But even with all of the early scoring off of Price so far in his first 10 starts, the leftie has also shown some fantastic moment of clarity and judgment.
Good example is the June start against the Florida Marlins at home in which he let the lead-off man, Chris Coglhan on base with a walk, then Emilio Bonifacio on after an infield single to short, but regained his composure and retired the next three Marlin hitters to get out of the inning. He then came out in the second inning and sent the Marlins down 1-2-3 to show some spunk to the home crowd. In the third he got two quick outs before letting Bonifacio walk and it would cost him. Price then gave up a single to Hanley Ramirez that scored Bonifacio and Price surrendered his only run of the ballgame.
From that point on, Price walked three more hitters throughout his start, but none of them came back to haunt him and were stranded on base. He was showing some of the guts and determination needed to survive in the major leagues. Some might look at Price’s 2
009 record of 3-4, with a 4.86 ERA as being a bad thing. But then other will look at the wins he has gotten against the Marlins, Twins and Blue Jays as stepping stones into the future. Seriously, how many people really expected the young gun to come out and truly go 10-0 in his first 10 starts?
I know there are some in the Rays Republic who dreams and wanted that, but the 3-4 record is really not as bad as it all seems. In that span Price has gotten some really valuable experience and useful pitching techniques for the future. He is just beginning to get the major league strikezone imprinted into his mind and should begin to turn the corner in the next few starts. Everyone wants him to win, me included, but it is not always possible for that to happen. But in his recent troubles, you can point to two things that get him into situation every time.
First problem is with keeping the lead-off hitters to stay off the basepaths. In all 4 of his losses to Texas, Philly,Colorado and the White Sox, this has been a key element to his downfall. Mix that in with giving up a total of 9 walks in those 4 games and you get a ingredient for losing. His walk total of 33 in 50 innings is a great indicator of some control issues, or just him trying to paint the black on the corner of the plate too much at times. Either way, when his walks go down you will see a more effective and more consistent guy on the mound.
And that take time. I really thought his break-out season was going to be 2010, and that is still a huge possibility for him. He might just use the rest of this season as a time to adjust his change-up and his slider to meet the needs of the game instead of trying to just fire it past people then leaving up a hanging breaking ball that he sees going into some fan’s hands in the game. The kid is magic, you can see it when he has everything going right for him on the mound. But the reality here people is that the guy is still learning to pitch at this level. His time in Triple-A in 2008 and 2009 have been a training ground to him coming up and performing this season.
He might have been a pre-season favorite to win the Rookie of the Year award, but right now he has to again win over David Price before he can gain the attention of us and the rest of the country. He could again be that guy on the mound if the Rays get to the 2009 playoffs, and he can again be the dominating pitcher he was in the lower levels of the minors and in college. Adjusting at this level sometimes has to be done during the game and not during the next Bullpen Session with your Pitching Coach. But I know he has the right stuff, and with it he is going to be the most successful drafted player out of the Rays system as a pitcher.
But for him to get to that next level, two thing have to happen. He has to just pitch and not analyze or even second guess himself on the mound. He will give up bad hits or innings. To just come out every half inning and view it as a new beginning might be the hardest part. Society dwells on things as a general rule, but as a pitcher you have to put it behind you and strive for more. I know that is probably easier said than done, but it a true sense of what Price has to do to take the next step. His control will come in time. Umpires will begin to give him borderline pitches if he consistently hit that mark.
But basically, for Price to be a success in the major league only one thing needs to happen. He needs to go after hitters from the get-go and establish himself early in the game. By not letting teams get early leads on him or rattling his cage he can develop a game plan and dominate. Sometimes I believe we put too much pressure on these guys to be ”the man” way before they are ready to assume the role. For Price to reach that level of stardom the baseball world has already anointed him with he has to simple pitch his game and be consistent. The Rays have a shining gem in Price, let’s not dull him up before his time.