Price is Starting to Shine like a Penny
When former Vanderbilt University pitcher David Price was first selected by the Tampa Bay Rays a few years ago as their First Pick in the amateur draft you knew the guy had something special about him. The way he beamed when he smiled for the camera, and the confidence and the demeanor of the guy, you wanted him to almost go straight to the major leagues. You had a feeling about this kid that if anyone could make it, Price was the real deal.
But no one who has ever come out the Rays farm system has ever had this kind of fanfare even before they had played their first game in Class-A ball. Because of his fantasy-like experience up with the Rays prior to the 2008 playoff surge he came into 2009 with some high expectation put on him by the so-called experts and Fantasy poets. The guy was basically given the 2009 Rookie of the Year award without even setting foot on a Major League field. That is a huge amount of pressure and false expectations put on a guy who has shown limited time up in the big leagues.
And it is not like Price has fallen on his face or even seen sent back and forth to the minors with the Rays this year. When the team did finally bring him up to the majors he was voiced that he would be here for good baring an injury and would mature and grow as a starter at this level. And it was not like they put him down in the minors as a punishment or even a deterrent, but as a better way to get some additional help with his control and mechanics before he was out there for everyone to see when he finally came up to the major leagues.
The Rays did everything in their power to keep him down in the minors to correct some controls issues and make his change-up major league ready. So when they finally made the decision to bring him up, I thought it might be a bit too early. But Price did struggle early, which is completely understandable. It is rare for a pitcher to just get right into his teams groove and set the world on fire from Day One. But the media had anointed him the next Rays savior even before Spring Training.
All during the spring, reporters would throw out daily “Price” questions and were anxious to know of he was being considered for the fifth rotation spot. Price did look impressive at times in the spring, but you could also see that he needed to polish a few things before firing the ball in Tropicana Field every fifth day. So the Rays finally decided on March 25th to send him back to Triple-A Durham for a few months to mature and refine his pitching mechanics. And Price like a true professional went back and put in his time and effort and became a model player for the Bulls.
For Price, the beginning of 2009 truly did not feel like the excitement and the drama of last October. He did come out of the gate after his promotion to the Rays with mixed reviews. But how do you improve on his 2008 success when he came up late in the season and posted a 1.95 ERA in your 5 games. Can the hype be so large that we all forgot this is a guy who flew through the minor league system in one season and arrived in old Yankee Stadium for his MLB debut. Did we really expect him to toss the bar even higher so early in his career?
Well, if you ask me, we did put a bit of false expectations on the guy that he would be the reincarnation of Cy Young winner Cliff Lee so early in his career. Not that being like Lee would be a bad thing, but Price was still tooling with his change-up when he finally got here to the majors. And his rise and fall in recent outings shows that he is a pitcher who is still searching for his perfect groove right now. But there have been signs of light that have trickled and have shown bright as day into the Florida night for this guy in 2009.
Reinhold Matay / AP
Price was fighting with his control early on in the season, but also was able to combine some long outings for the Rays this season. But Price seemed to save his best effort of the season for last night’s game against the Boston Red Sox. In this critical American League East contest he went 6 innings and gave up 6 hits, but his two runs allowed were on homers by Victor Martinez and Jason Bay.
But these pitches were mistakes that can be easily corrected with the viewing of the game tapes to see if his breaking balls were hanging in the strikezone, or if he missed his mark badly with the pitches. The illustration of him standing up to the pressure of the moment and coming out on top speaks well to hid future on the mound. It is hard sometimes to learn a new pitch, or even adjust your mechanics o the fly knowing you have 5 days until your next start. But so far he has done just that and has improved in small ways with every start.
But hidden inside that win last night for Price to even his record to 5-5 was the fact of his control in the game. Price showed massive improvement in the category of walks. For 13 starts this season Price has taken the mound and you did not know what control issues if any he would have that night. But last night he again, for the third time this season came out of the game without issuing a single walk to the opponent. That is a major step forward for Price, and is an example of how is is maturing with every start this season.
But there were also a few things working into his favor last night during his start against the Red Sox. Price was 4-1 at home this season and had posted a 2.67 ERA. This was a complete opposite of his road woes this season, which currently has Price at 0-3 with a 9.23 ERA. So the confines of the Trop. were a perfect setting for him to again shine on the mound for the Rays. But he also has been showing more progress on the road too. He took a no-decision in that wild shootout up in Toronto on July 25th during that largest comeback by the Rays in their history.
But it has not been all a bed of roses or thorns for Price this season, but he has the odd distinction of being the starting pitcher in both the games where the Rays had their biggest comeback in history (Toronto) and had their biggest blown lead (Cleveland) this season. It has been a virtual Yin and Yang for him in 2009. But the fact he has allowed two earned runs or less in 7 of his 13 starts shows that progress is being made by him this season. And combining with fellow Rays Rookie Jeff Niemann, they both were the first pair of rookies to defeat Roy Halladay in a season, and they did it within a 11 day span.
And the Rays offense has rallied around the rookie going 8-5 in his starts this season including wins over C C Sabathia, Johan Santana and Halladay. They have supported the young pitcher to a 6.6 runs per nine inning mark that would rank him 6th in the majors if he had enough innings to qualify. But even with all that positive vibe starting to flow right now there is a few things to worry about with Price. His 18.9 pitches per inning ranks him second among AL pitcher with at least 50 innings this season. That is one of the issues this young pitcher has been battling this season. But in last nights game against Boston, he only needed 10 pitches to get through the first inning.
The upside to Price being in the rotation right now is starting to unfold. He has now issued only 5 walks in his last 5 games. His control is beginning to shine through, which could be very beneficial to the Rays down the stretch. Among 65 AL starters with as many starts as Price he is ranked fifth in strikeouts per nine innings (8.55) behind Tiger Justin Verlander, Red Sox Jon Lester, Mariner Erik Bedard and Royal Zack Greinke. He is beginning to turn the corner towards his ascent into becoming a known starter in the AL.
And let’s put a nice cherry on the top of his season right now. When Price took the mound for his first start in Tropicana Field this season against Francisco Liriano and the Minnesota Twins on May 30th, he earned his first win of his career in the regular season, and also became only the third Rays rookie to post 11 strikeouts in a game. the last time that happened was back in September 10, 2005 when fellow Rays starter Scott Kazmir did it against Toronto.
The 1980’s group Timbuk 3 did a song called, “Future’s So Bright, I Got to Wear Shades”. Right now Price is beginning to ride a wave of good fortune and awesome results. For the Rays to get into position for the 2009 playoffs, they will need Price and Rookie Jeff Niemann to improve with every start and stay consistent on the mound. For Price it might be the time for him to push towards the top and become the starter that the Fantasy gurus have dreamed about since late in 2008.