Red Sox

Red Sox pitching making strides, but still missing a big piece

Red Sox pitching making strides, but still missing a big piece

Red Sox pitching is off to a good start in the second half.

The staff has a 3.60 ERA, ranking sixth in the American League, 11th in baseball -- nearly cutting down a whole run off their staff ERA (4.43) before the All-Star break.

In particular, the starters have begun to pick things up.

Rick Porcello continues to be “Reliable Rick”.

Steven Wright shut out the Dodgers on Friday night after ending a tough July.

Eduardo Rodriguez has a 3.18 ERA through five starts since the break.

Drew Pomeranz hasn’t caught the same fever, but he’s still and improvement over Boston’s fifth starter in the first half.

Then there’s the “ace”.

David Price was a disappointment in the first half, posting a 4.34 ERA over 19 starts where he had a fairly even mix between good and bad starts.

Many expected Price would flip a switch in the second half and dominate -- but he hasn’t.

He’s had some good starts, like July 28 in Anaheim (eight scoreless innings) on the West Coast trip.

But then there was Sunday's start against the Dodgers, which derailed after the third inning.

The start between the two -- Aug. 2 in Seattle (four runs in seven innings) -- is another important one to note, but after a look at some numbers.

One of the knocks on Price early in the season was his fastball velocity.

And he’s addressed that, touching 96 mph in most outings and 95 if not.

He made a point of saying he’d fixed it following his rough Minnesota start on July 23.

“What does my velocity say up there?” Price said while getting ready for pitchers’ stretching a day after scuffling against one of the worst teams in baseball. “Velocity’s just fine, right? Okay.”

And for those who question that because they're frequently seeing 90-91 on the radar gun, that’s his cutter -- which is another issue that will be discussed.

But first a few more numbers.

Before the break, opponents hit .255 against Price with a .303 on-base percentage. Not particularly good, but much better than the .328 clip and .367 OBP they’ve posted in the five games since the break.

In looking at one more split, Price has been at his worst in the nine games the Red Sox scored six or more runs behind him with a 6.66 ERA and a .317 opponents' batting average. 

Still, he has a 5-0 record in those games.

Generally speaking, a pitcher’s personal record doesn't mean much, more that the team winds up winning in the pitcher’s individual start. But when there are six runs to your name -- and you’re an “ace” -- you should record the win every time.

Not to mention, the Red Sox lost three of those other four starts he wasn’t on the hook for.

Some might argue that the long layoffs in between innings affect him in those starts, but he consistently doesn’t make excuses for himself, so that can’t be the issue.

Watching the eighth inning of the aforementioned Seattle start was tough because Price was efficient the entire outing.

The solo home run to lead the eighth off wasn’t a big deal.

The next three batters going 3-for-3 was though.

Especially the final one to Guillermo Heredia -- his first MLB hit -- that knocked him out of the contest.

Price would give another rookie -- the Dodgers' Rob Segedin -- his first two MLB hits and first four big league RBI in his next start, too.

In addition to both hitters being rookies, Price made significant mistakes against them both.

Against Segedin, he fell behind 2-and-0 twice, which turned into a pair of two-RBI hits.

He had Heredia 2-2 -- after falling behind 2-0, as well -- and made the 25-year-old look stupid with a good fastball-curveball combination.

But then he threw his cutter right over the heart of the plate. He was trying to jam the righty and clearly didn’t execute.

At the same time, why not use what was working? Heredia had no chance on Price’s fastball and flailed at a sharp breaking ball in the dirt.

That brings back a conversation with a pitcher who has actually turned a corner -- Clay Buchholz.

“I try to master as many pitches as I can, just to have those in my back pocket to throw in situations that maybe I wouldn’t usually throw them, but to keep a hitter off balance and get them out in front,” Buchholz said after finding out he’d earned his starting spot back in rotation after a stellar three-inning relief performance.

But that explanation doesn’t promote simplicity -- quite the opposite actually.

Which is why Buchholz is back in the bullpen -- where he’s flourished.

The righty has a 3.32 ERA and 1.05 WHIP out of the pen this season and opponents are hitting .188 against him.

Now that his outings are so short, he can keep things simple.

Relievers jobs are simpler by nature -- no question -- but it wouldn’t hurt Price to watch some video to see if he’s outthinking himself.

He wouldn’t be the first Boston pitcher to do it.

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.