BOSTON -- He’s taken a lot of heat, and on Sunday night he continued to bring a lot.
David Price delivered his most memorable start of the season in a 3-0 win over the Yankees, playing the role of stopper as always envisioned.
It was a hard task.
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Per BrooksBaseball.net, 96.3 percent of pitches Price threw in eight shutout innings at Fenway Park were hard pitches: fastball, sinkers or cutters. Before Monday, the highest percentage of hard stuff he had relied on inside of one start since joining the Sox was 86.4 percent -- against the Rangers two starts ago.
Price threw just four curveballs on Sunday, three for strikes. The other 103 pitches he threw were sinkers (77) and cutters (26). The former garnered seven swings and misses, the latter six.
That approach fits in with the season overall, although it was to an extreme. Coming off an elbow injury, Price is, remarkably, averaging more fastball-related pitches -- 79.1 percent of pitches -- than he has in any other year in his career except for 2011, when he sat at 80.1 percent.
“He was outstanding. Powerful from start to finish,” Sox manager John Farrell said. “A lot of strikes. Very good command. And it was impressive to see just how he maintained his stuff throughout. You know, fastball to both sides of the plate. I thought he had a really good cutter tonight, particularly with some times when he had some added depth to it.”
Now, Price is not throwing the absolute hardest he ever has. In 2010 and 2011, he sat at 95 mph or above on his hard pitches. Price is certainly throwing harder than he was a year ago, at an average of 93.1 mph -- a big leap from the 92.3 mph stuff he was averaging in 2016, the lowest point of his career velocity wise.
But it’s also a matter of attack. Price is relying on his power stuff in a way that resembles the seasons of his youth, to great effectiveness. And likely because everything plays off the fastball, there’s a reason Price is getting more whiffs per swing on not just his hard stuff, but his breaking balls and off-speed stuff too -- when he throws them.
A year ago, 26.9 percent of breaking balls Price threw that were swung at were missed. This year, he’s at 36.4 percent, the most dramatic rise between the three pitch categories. The only year he had more whiffs per swing on his breaking ball was 2012.
Sunday was the 12th time in Price’s career he’s gone at least eight innings and struck out at least eight while allowing no earned runs. (He did it twice last year, both times against the Rays.)
There’s a location element at play here too. Price is grooving fewer pitches middle-middle, per Brooks' count. His curveball’s getting more depth to it this season -- more vertical movement -- as is his cutter.
When the Sox signed Price, perhaps the greatest concern was the possibility a power arm would no longer perform as that. That Price, who turns 32 in August, would lose what’s helped make him so effective. Someday, like every pitcher, his stuff will diminish. This year, he’s had a revival in not only throwing hard, but in a great reliance on those pitches.