Red Sox

David Price returns, Red Sox lose to Rays, 3-2

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David Price returns, Red Sox lose to Rays, 3-2

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Daivd Price had a flawless return from a nearly two-month layoff.

The 2012 AL Cy Young Award winner pitched two hitless innings in relief for the Boston Red Sox in a 3-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday.

He was activated Thursday and pitched for the first time since July 22 after being sidelined by left elbow inflammation. He struck out two in his first relief appearance since 2010.

"I felt good. I put up two zeroes in a one-run game. It's fun to get back out there," said Price, who pitched for the first time since July 22 after being sidelined by left elbow inflammation. "I felt good with the curveball, threw some really good cutters, a couple good changeups. It was good."

Red Sox manager John Farrell had said Price would go no more than two innings in his first appearance. The Red Sox will attempt to determine whether he can be stretched out enough to start in the postseason.

"That was even more than I personally anticipated," said Farrell. "I'm amazed that someone who hasn't pitched in a game in nearly seven weeks would come out with that kind of command and throw three or four pitches for strikes. He is a unique pitcher and that was really a strong two innings of work."

The AL East-leading Red Sox remained three games ahead of the New York Yankees with 13 games remaining in the regular season.

Jake Odorizzi (9-8) gave up one hit in six innings and the Rays salvaged the finale of a three-game series. Jesus Sucre's solo home run off Eduardo Rodriguez regained the lead for Tampa Bay in the sixth inning after Jackie Bradley Jr. homered for the only hit off Odorizzi.

It was the sixth home run for Sucre and the 17th for Bradley.

Odorizzi took a no-hitter into the sixth, having given up only a first-inning walk to Dustin Pedroia. He had retired 14 straight when he walked Brock Holt to lead off the sixth. Bradley's two-run homer followed on a 3-2 pitch, tying the game 2-2.

According to Odorizzi, it wasn't necessarily a bad pitch, just the wrong one.

"I was throwing what was working for me," he said. "I had good life on my fastball. He was sitting dead-red. If I had thrown him a changeup he probably would have swung and missed by a good bit. But I didn't and he didn't."

Rodriguez (5-6) took the loss for the Red Sox.

Evan Longoria drove in the Rays' first two runs with singles in the first and fifth innings.

Odorizzi pitched six innings, the longest of any Rays starter in their last 10 games, giving up two runs on one hit and two walks while striking out seven.

Alex Colome pitched the ninth for his 45th save.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Red Sox: RF Mookie Betts left the game in the fifth inning with a right thumb contusion. ... 2B Pedroia (left knee inflammation) returned as a DH on Sunday after a day off following his 0-for-9 performance in Friday night's 15-inning game. Pedroia will return to 2B in Baltimore on Monday night.

UP NEXT

Red Sox: RHP Doug Fister (5-8) will make his 13th start for Boston Monday night in the opener of a three-game series at Baltimore. RHP Dylan Bundy (13-9) will pitch for the Orioles.

Rays: Former Rays manager Joe Maddon will bring the Chicago Cubs to Tropicana Field for a two-game interleague series starting Tuesday night. RHP Chris Archer (9-10) will pitch for the Rays against LHP Jon Lester (11-7).

With hellacious slider, Chris Sale is actually getting better

With hellacious slider, Chris Sale is actually getting better

Chris Sale is on more than just a good run. The best pitcher in the American League has actually gotten better.

Sale’s ability to light up the radar gun has been noticeable. He hit triple digits once again in the All-Star Game — now a regular occurrence, although he maxed out at just 99 mph on Sunday. After his third straight Midsummer Classic start, Sale attributed the recent boost in velocity to multiple things, including the Red Sox strength and conditioning staff. As pitching coach Dana LeVangie has said at different points, Sale came into this year with a plan, and is executing it wonderfully.

What stands out beyond the velocity is the slider.

Per Statcast, 46 of the 99 pitches Sale threw on Sunday vs. the Tigers were sliders. He’s using his breaking ball more this year than he ever has in his career as a starter, for good reason. 

The big jump in usage came from 2016 to 2017. But in movement? This season has been tremendous. He’s getting about eight inches of movement on the pitch, up from about 5 inches in 2016 and 5 1/2 inches in 2017, per BrooksBaseball.net's measurements:

That was heading into Sunday. Peek at the Statcast numbers over at BaseballSavant.com, and what do you find: more and more spin on the slider as the years have gone on.

The slider in 2015: an average of 2,206 RPM. The next year, 2,251. In 2017, it was 2,395. This year, 2,478.

In the seven-start stretch leading into Sunday’s start, the number was 2,525. 

How? The Red Sox think part of it has to do with how square Sale’s hand is at the point of release. A better spin axis means more of the spin can translate to movement. Pitchers very often don't maximize their spin.

Sale's vertical release point is also lower overall in 2018: not to a huge degree, but as low it’s been basically since 2013. There's a belief  that finishing his delivery lower, towards his knee rather than his hip, may be helping the extra movement.

At the end of the day, Sale is a phenomenal athlete who thrives on rest that the Sox are fostering and an intense routine. He was already awesome, and with some help from the Red Sox coaches and staff, he’s only making himself better as he marches toward his first Cy Young award.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

The Baseball Show Podcast: Will the Red Sox make a trade before the deadline?

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The Baseball Show Podcast: Will the Red Sox make a trade before the deadline?

0:23 - Lou Merloni and Evan Drellich discuss Chris Sale's continued dominance as he shuts down the Tigers on Sunday afternoon. Sale now has an incredible 0.27 ERA in his last 5 starts.

4:24 - Will the Red Sox make a trade prior to the deadline? Do they have enough ammo to bring in an impact player? Merloni and Drellich talk about what positions the Red Sox should look to upgrade before July 31st.

9:05 - David Price started off the unofficial 2nd half of the season with 6.1 innings of shutout ball. Is he someone the Red Sox can rely on going forward? Lou and Evan break down what they expect to see from Price.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE