BOSTON — Let’s not pretend the decision to move to David Price to the bullpen was primarily about time, or the lack thereof, to build up his pitch count.
There are enough games, enough days, to get Price up and running as a starter, even if it’s for just five innings at the get-go in the regular season. There is time to try and then back away and put Price in the ‘pen, if the Sox wanted to.
They don’t want to. And the fact they don’t is a clear referendum on the state of the bullpen, as well as clouded commentary on the pitcher himself.
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There were notable two left-handed relievers activated from the disabled list in the American League on Thursday: Price and Andrew Miller.
The Red Sox want the former to become the latter. Need, in fact. Because beyond Craig Kimbrel and Addison Reed, there’s a game of musical chairs.
Consider that even in close games down the stretch, manager John Farrell has to do some information-gathering with his reliever usage.
“There’s a short list of those things right now, yes,” Farrell said Thursday afternoon, after a 6-2 Sox win over the A’s where he used five relievers. “And that’s a fallout of some internal conversations, part of the [desire to use the] hot hand or part of that information gathering. It’s balanced with a pennant race and the importance of finishing out games as best possible. But, as it starts to build toward these last remaining games, yeah, there’s some of that that’s going on currently.”
Price shores up a weakness.
At the same time, the fact the Sox don’t want Price to try to start creates an open-ended question of management’s faith in a $31 million pitcher.
You could go both ways. Asking Price to switch roles could be looked at as a move of great faith in the southpaw, because they believe in Price’s ability to adjust to a role he’s had little experience with.
On the other hand, you could argue the Sox are showing they do not believe in Price’s ability to make an effective, quick return as a starter — a progression that Sox manager John Farrell said would be “aggressive.”
Aggressive. . . that’s the idea on the bases, isn’t it? That’s a lot different than impossible, or unreasonable.
There was no suggestion that Price physically is not capable of coming back as a starter, mind you. The choice has not been described to be a decision based on doctor’s orders.
“Recognizes the limited availability of time and to build back up so logically this is a spot and is accepting of the role,” Farrell said Thursday of Price’s role. “He wants to get back and pitch. He wants to get back and compete.”
Here, hypothetically, is another way he could compete: Price could throw four innings Sept. 18 in a sim game, staying on regular rest after his three-inning sim game Wednesday. He could have thrown five innings Sept. 23 in a return start in the majors, and a targeted six innings Sept. 28.
The argument inevitably moves to the value of Price as a starter vs. a reliever, and it’s layered. Will Price be more effective in relief than he would as a starter? Would he be better able to shed rust ahead of the playoffs if he can forego building up his pitch count? Possibly.
A potential drawback: presumably, in the span of a short series, the Red Sox will get fewer innings out of Price as a reliever than they would were he a starter. Yet, having Price available in more games earlier in a series could also be advantageous.
So the Red Sox have made their plan with Price, and there’s one certainty it points to: the uncertainty in the bullpen. Reed, Kimbrel, Joe Kelly, Robby Scott and Brandon Workman all pitched Thursday, and all seem likely to make a presumed playoff roster. At least as of now.
“Well, we can’t turn away from what has gone on the entire season and the full body of work,” Farrell said when asked if the ‘pen is the big question down the stretch. “There may be additional weight on these final two weeks, but I can’t say it would revamp a whole bridging to [Craig] Kimbrel.”