ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Any day now, David Price will pitch like David Price. Right?
We keep waiting. And waiting.
Oh, he went through a stretch in which he pitched well (a 3.26 ERA over his previous nine starts, eight of which were quality) and was gradually lowering his lofty ERA. It was down to 4.24 on June 19 from 6.75 on May 7. It went back up to 4.68 after his start in Texas last week, when he lasted 2⅓ innings and allowed 12 hits and 6 runs.
In a game against Atlanta on April 26, when he struck out 14, he looked like himself, but that was against the worst team in baseball.
Yes, any day now, the $30 million pitcher will emerge. He said as much after Wednesday’s 4-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays, taking full blame.
“Bad, again,” said Price. “Putting us behind the 8-ball early in games. Not setting the tone the way that I need to. It’s tough. I’ve got to get better.”
On a day when manager John Farrell said Price had his best stuff, the fact that he couldn’t limit the damage was frustrating.
“Absolutely,” Price said. “I’m so much better than this. It’s just got to get better. It’s crushing me right now. I’ll get there.”
Is it because he’s throwing too many strikes?
“In some cases,” he said, “but that’s me just wanting to get outs. It’s just me wanting to get 27 outs. That’s what I did for a long time in my career, pitching extremely deep in baseball games and putting up a lot of zeroes, and that’s not the way it’s going right now.
“It’s not bad luck, it’s me.”
He put the Red Sox in a 4-0 hole despite the fact that he had good stuff and was striking out 10 Rays over 6⅓ innings.
To put this in perspective: After 17 starts, Price is 8-5 with a 4.74 ERA; after 17 starts last season, he was 8-2 with a 2.54 ERA for the Tigers. He finished a combined 18-5, 2.45, for the Tigers and Blue Jays.
So why hasn’t Price been consistently dominant from start to start, and even within a game?
Let’s make a few excuses for him first.
Excuse 1: It is the first year of a record $217 million contract in a big market. Guys who played for the Red Sox and Yankees have often said how difficult the first year is. There’s the pressure to live up to the contract, first of all. There’s also the acclimation to a more intense environment.
Tampa Bay was a piece of cake compared with Boston. Detroit was more intense, and Toronto intensified the second half of last year. But this is Boston, and when Price signed here, he had to know that big-time players who don’t perform to their contracts aren’t going to have it easy here.
Excuse 2: He was pitching against his old team Wednesday. Maybe a few emotions going on. Maybe he was a little amped up because he wanted to beat them so badly.
Excuse 3: Maybe he’s just caught up in the pitching malaise the Red Sox have gone through. It’s contagious, you know.
Excuse 4: Maybe years of pitching so many innings has caught up to him. Maybe he has a tired arm and can’t repeat his delivery. How do you explain being dominant and getting whacked around in the same game? He struck out four straight Rays in the second and third innings. Then the proverbial roof caved in.
Do we miss Jon Lester yet?
Do we wish the Sox had acquired Cole Hamels, who is tearing it up in Texas (9-1, 2.60 this year, and 16-2, 3.07, since the trade from Philadelphia last July 31)? And no, you didn’t have to give up Mookie Betts or Xander Bogaerts to get him. Ben Cherington didn’t care for the fact that Hamels had Boston on his original no-trade list.
When the Red Sox acquired Price, the only negative thing hanging over him was his poor postseason record. Now you have to be concerned about whether Price will even lead the Sox to the postseason.
Price seems very content to throw a lot of two-seam fastballs and cutters when his strength has always been his elevated four-seam fastball. He topped out at 97 m.p.h. Wednesday and was throwing in the 94-range most of the day. With 10 strikeouts, it marked the fifth time he’s reached double digits. So we’re not talking about a guy who’s hurt.
He surrendered a solo homer to Brandon Guyer in the second inning, but then struck out the side. In the third, after Price started with another strikeout, Logan Forsythe singled, Brad Miller singled, and Evan Longoria doubled in the second run. A ball hit off Price to Dustin Pedroia allowed the third run to score and Guyer’s double to left scored the fourth.
From there, Price was decent until he came out with one out in the seventh inning.
What happened to him over that five-batter span in the third inning is anyone’s guess. All we know is, aces don’t have those meltdowns very often, but Price has seen his share of them this season, which he is why he’s carrying an ERA around 5.
Price said he had the worst changeup and his curveball “was awful.”
He went so far as to say, “It’s been my worst year. It’s unacceptable. I’ve got to get better and I will.
“I haven’t set the tone. I haven’t pitched deep enough into games. I’ve given up too many runs. I’ve given up homers. It’s tough.”
Any day now, we may see the real Price.
Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.