Red Sox

McAdam: Price's dominant performance bodes well for Red Sox


McAdam: Price's dominant performance bodes well for Red Sox

As David Price cut through the Atlanta Braves lineup Tuesday like a hot knife through butter, it was easy to dismiss his dominance.

There were the Atlanta Braves after all, whose 11-4 loss to the Red Sox left them at 4-16. The Braves have gone 15 games now without hitting a home run, and in a league where fully one-third of the teams don't seem to be trying to compete in 2016, the Braves may well be the worst.

Their best hitter was dropped to sixth in the lineup Monday, and, in one of the games, they featured a 40-year-old backup catcher as their cleanup hitter. As a team, their OPS is below .600, which means their entire lineup is about as imposing as nine light-hitting utility infielders.

Even if the Braves aren't known particularly as a team that strikes out a lot, offensively, they're inept.

But there's another way to look at Price's start, too. He's not yet dialed in on the mound. His velocity is off some, in keeping with his own history in April.

When he's fully firing on all cylinders, Price regularly throws his fastball 95-96 mph. This year, he's been averaging a little more than 92, though at times Tuesday, he touched 94.

Still, Price is not yet at his best in terms of speed and yet he's avergaing 13.96 strikeouts per nine innings.

That suggests there's more yet to come from Price. And that's a frightful notion for opposing hitters.

It's been well documented that April is Price's cruelest month, with a career ERA of 3.70. That's not uncommon for power pitchers, who typically take some time to build arm strength at the beginning of the season and don't seem to pitch as well in the cold weather that's common in the first weeks of the season.

Before last night, Price's issue wasn't so much velocity as it was execution. Even in two subpar outings, he was still registering strikeouts. But he was also leaving pitches over the heart of the plate, resulting in big innings against him and short stays on the mound.

Tuesday, however, Price seemed in midseason form, even if the radar gun suggested there's still room for improvement.

At 30, Price may be in the middle of an evolition of sorts. He's thrown a lot of innings in his career -- five times he's topped 200 innings -- and there are concessions that have to be made as a pitcher ages.

Tuesday night suggested two things: First, Price is just now getting his fastball closer to where it will eventually be. Secondly, even if he doesn't throw any harder than he currently does, it will be plenty sufficient.

"He's not throwing as hard,'' Braves outfielder Nick Markakis told the Boston Herald, "but he's throwing that slider and all of his pitches. He's locating them, which is a big key for him. You can't go out there and throw 97-98 mph all the time.

"I think the biggest thing is, he's just smarter now.''

It happens to all power pitchers at some point. The fastball isn't quite what it once was, and the best of them figure out how to compensate. Pedro Martinez did it, memorably, in a playoff appearance in Cleveland, when he tossed six no-hit innings in relief despite the fact that a shoulder issue prohibited him from hitting 90 mph. Martinez took those lessons late into his career, too, when the combination of age and his slight frame limited his velocity.

The first five starts of this season suggest that Price seems to have that already worked out -- if necessary.

It's the difference between pitching and throwing. And at times Tuesday night, Price showed himself more than capable of doing both.

Strong Grapefruit League debut for Price

Strong Grapefruit League debut for Price

David Price's Grapefruit League debut was nearly perfect.

The Red Sox left-hander pitched four scoreless innings, allowing a hit and a walk and striking out five in a 7-5 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays in Fort Myers, Fla.

Price threw 55 pitches, 34 for strikes. He cruised through the first on nine pitches. He allowed the single and walk in the second.  

"It feels good. This is March 15 and I've never been able to have a four-pitch mix on March 15," Price told reporters after his start. "I've never been this far along in spring training even though I've only thrown in one game. I'm excited about that."

The Red Sox open March 29 at Tampa Bay, with Chris Sale likely to start. Price will likely pitch the second game of the season, March 30 at Tropicana Field.