Red Sox

Drellich: Price finds playoff redemption, but bullpen needs rotation's help

Drellich: Price finds playoff redemption, but bullpen needs rotation's help

BOSTON — David Price has redemption, or at least his first taste of it, after what he agreed was his best performance in a Red Sox uniform. 

Price’s four shutout innings in relief in Game 3 of the American League Division Series preserved a one-run lead that eventually morphed into a 10-3 win over the Astros, a performance that put Price in the same conversation with Pedro Martinez. Pedro was the last Sox reliever to toss at least that many innings out of the bullpen without allowing a run, back in his famous Game 5 performance in the 1999 DS.

MORE: Drellich's five thoughts from Game 3

As Price continues to dominate, the decision not to try to build him up as a reliever once he came off the disabled list in the regular season looks worse and worse.

"In the world of all hands on deck, today showed why you have that, and he exceeded expectations just being able to bounce back as a former starter," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "If there was any doubt on what players are willing to do or what they can do, today shows you that, what playoff baseball will bring out of you and him. His power attack is the same. These guys pitch us very similarly no matter who is pitching with trying to back us up off the plate. He did a good job of making our guys somewhat uncomfortable with the fastball in. He's got the back-door cutter, the changeup. There's weapons in there for him to attack. So it's what we expected. I think his resiliency and his — he sort of reached back and had a little bit extra on his pitches today that was pretty impressive. We weren't surprised by him."

Now, Price didn’t exactly write a love letter to Red Sox fans in his postgame press conference. It doesn’t seem Price has exactly lost the chip on his shoulder, or his concern for outside perception. And maybe both are essential elements to his performance.

Either way, Price seems to to grasp the bottom line: pitch well, and the rest falls into place. Sunday was an example of how that momentum builds.

“If I throw well out of the bullpen that doesn't mean anything, I got to do this as a starter. I know that, y'all know that, y'all write it and it will be talked about,” Price said Sunday. “I mean, I want to help this team win right now. That's if it's coming out of the pen, I'm going to do it. If it's playing center field, I'll do it. It doesn't matter to me. I want to win. That's why I came here, we just need to keep it going, whatever the team asks me to do, that's what I'm going to do. They know I want to start, they know I want the ball.”

But Price is wrong that pitching out of the bullpen doesn’t mean anything. What he’s done — in addition to helping the Red Sox tremendously — is show people in Boston that he can be a weapon in the postseason. 

Not everyone doubted it. But those who would still suggest he cannot pitch like this as starting pitcher in October have no logical leg to stand on. Price put it best himself.

"I can do this as a starter, too, I just haven't done it yet. Period,” Price said. “Pitching suits me well, and that's what I did. It has nothing to do with relieving or starting, I just threw the ball well today.”

Now, the Red Sox desperately — desperately — need his rotation-mates to do the same. We say rotation-mate purposely, because what Price did Sunday was the equivalent of a start, and better than any actual start the Sox have had this October. 

The Sox can’t turn to Price for much on Monday, if anything. They’d be able to get more out of him Tuesday, if Game 4 is washed out and pushed back a day.

The bullpen needs help from the rotation either way.

The fact Price even had a chance to keep Sunday’s score at 4-3 for four innings was in itself a minor miracle, one courtesy of Mookie Betts. The right fielder’s robbery of Josh Reddick’s three-run home run in the second inning kept a 3-0 game from becoming 6-0.

When you look beyond Price, and how the Red Sox move forward, the formula from Sunday is unsustainable. The 11.70 ERA Sox starters have through their last six division series games — three this year, and three last year — is phenomenally bad, and probably due to level off.

It has to start with Rick Porcello and continue with Chris Sale, the next two Sox starters lined up.

Both Porcello and Sale have their own, albeit very different, redemption stories that can play out here. Porcello had a tough 2017 and a poor postseason outing last year. Sale’s Game 1 was highly disappointing. (He's been, uh, pretty darn good otherwise.)

Price is doing his part, as fans and media clamored for and doubted. Now, the Sox need more of their strength, pitching, to show up from the get-go for Price to have a chance to make an even greater impact in these playoffs. 

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BEST OF BST PODCAST: David Price recruited J.D. Martinez to Boston?

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NBC Sports Boston illustration

BEST OF BST PODCAST: David Price recruited J.D. Martinez to Boston?

0:41 - Jared Carrabis joins BST to discuss David Price’s recruitment of J.D. Martinez and his comments about what it is like to play in Boston.

6:02 - Tom Curran, Phil Perry, and Tom Giles talk about where the Patriots stand with their wide receivers and if it is a position that should be addressed sooner rather than later.

10:59 - In this segment of NBA Crystal Ball, Chris Forsberg, DJ Bean, and Tom Giles predict what seed the Celtics finish with and which team will send Boston packing this season.

14:25 - Lou Merloni and Evan Drellich discuss the quotes from David Price on the negativity in Boston, what kind of success Price will have this season, and the signing of J.D. Martinez.

Drellich: It's the bench where Martinez creates roster dilemma

Drellich: It's the bench where Martinez creates roster dilemma

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Now that J.D. Martinez is about to join the fold, the Red Sox have some roster intrigue. But it's not at first base with Mitch Moreland and Hanley Ramirez. It sits on the infield with Brock Holt, Blake Swihart and Deven Marrero.

The ideal Red Sox lineup right now — or at least, the version we think we will see when Martinez is officially inked — has Moreland sitting out more often. Still, remember that we are talking about an ideal. Someone will get hurt. Multiple players, in fact. And even if everyone is healthy, we're in an era where teams prioritize depth and keeping players fresh.

"We've got guys that can play the infield and can play the outfield,” manager Alex Cora said Tuesday. "I'm comfortable with that. I'm comfortable with a roster that's very versatile. That's very important. Guys that can complement each other. I've been talking about rest the whole week. It's very important with the travel and schedule and workload, it's very important to have versatile players on your roster.”

In Martinez, Moreland, and Ramirez, there'll be three players on a daily basis for two spots: first base and designated hitter. Martinez just received a $110 million contract to start, likely at DH. So that leaves Ramirez and Moreland to share time at first.

Ramirez has the leg up. He has the bigger bat and the bigger salary. Plus, Cora on Tuesday said he looks at Ramirez as his No. 3 hitter. It would be odd for Cora to declare as much and then put Ramirez in, say, a platoon with the left-handed hitting Moreland once Martinez is officially signed.

“As of now?” Cora said Tuesday. “Hanley Ramirez.”

With that in mind, here’s a quick review (and projection) of the other starting roles:

C: Christian Vazquez
1B: Hanley Ramirez
2B: Eduardo Nunez
SS: Xander Bogaerts
3B: Rafael Devers
LF: Andrew Benintendi
CF: Jackie Bradley Jr.
RF: Mookie Betts
DH: J.D. Martinez 

Make no mistake, Martinez’s arrival will have ripple effects. The Sox traded outfielder Bryce Brentz to the Pirates for cash, clearing a 40-man spot for Martinez, whenever his deal becomes official. (It shouldn’t be long, barring any problems with a physical.) Brentz, a depth right-handed hitting outfielder with pop, was one of a few players the Sox have in camp out of options.

Moreland may well lose some at-bats with Martinez in the fold. Ramirez might too. Unless Ramirez mashes, the Sox will have reason to limit his playing time. At 497 plate appearances, a vesting option kicks in for 2019.

“I was supposed to be in a platoon role last year, split time last year, and I played more than I ever have in my career,” Moreland said Tuesday. “A lot of things can happen. He's a great guy. He's going to be a great addition for us, and looking forward to welcoming him with open arms and watching him help us win.”

Moreland's going to get his crack again this year, you can bet on it. And he also may need some down time himself.

Moreland, 32, had a fractured toe in 2017. His 149 games played were nonetheless a career high. Jackie Bradley Jr. was slowed by injuries last season, as was Mookie Betts, as was Hanley Ramirez, as was even Martinez. 

All it takes is one. An injury in the outfield, for example, could give Martinez more time in left field, in turn opening up the DH spot, in turn opening up more time at first base for Moreland.

Martinez had a sprained right foot to start the 2017 season and played in 119 regular-season games. He had an injury when he first got to Arizona as well (because he was hit by a pitch). He also had a fractured elbow in 2016, when he played 120 games.

People wonder too, well, what happens when Dustin Pedroia comes back? Where does Nunez play? It’s the same principle. Pedroia’s coming off major knee surgery. Nunez is coming off a knee injury of his own. Neither of these guys would do well to be in the lineup every day.

So, what is the real roster intrigue to open the season? If everyone is healthy on Opening Day — and that's also a big if — the bench is tricky.

Assuming the Sox carry 13 position players and that Sandy Leon remains the backup catcher, they'll have to choose two from these three: Brock Holt, who has experience and a $2.2 million salary but also has minor-league options; Deven Marrero, who's the surest defender they have; and Blake Swihart, who's not well versed on the infield but has upside as an athlete and at the plate. Swihart and Marrero do not have options.

Holt, who turns 30 in June, by virtue of his salary, has to be considered a favorite to stick around. At the same time, he's the only one the Sox could freely stash in the minors. Swihart and Marrero have upside that makes them appealing not only to the Sox, but to other teams as well.

Demote Holt? Trade one of Swihart or Marrero? Figure someone's hurt to begin Opening Day?

(Swihart conceivably could be carried as a second catcher, but it'd be hard to see the Sox parting with Leon, whose receiving is so well liked.)

Here's a fuller visual for you:

CATCHERS 
1. Christian Vazquez
2. Sandy Leon

INFIELDERS
3. Mitch Moreland
4. Eduardo Nunez
5. Xander Bogaerts
6. Rafael Devers
7. Hanley Ramirez

OUTFIELDERS
8. Jackie Bradley
9. Andrew Benintendi
10. Mookie Betts
11. J.D. Martinez

BENCH
12. Brock Holt?
13. Deven Marrero?
14. Blake Swihart?

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