Red Sox

Red Sox

BOSTON — The pitcher sounds like he wants to go the distance, the manager sounds like he has a different idea. The age-old decision is about to play out in an unusual way: David Price’s potential role with the Red Sox for the start of the postseason. 

Does the skipper or the pitcher make the call? In this case, it won't be so black and white, because health is a hazy question.

Price and Red Sox manager John Farrell are to discuss the plan for Price on Thursday, a day after Price threw three innings with inning breaks at Fenway Park. Price faced Chris Young, Deven Marrero and Tzu-Wei Lin in his second sim game on the way back from an arm injury. 

The way Price sounded on Wednesday, he wants to start and he wants to move into major league action right away. That’s precisely what you’d expect to hear.

“I don’t know how many days we have left and how many games,” Price said when asked if he feels he can start. “Threw 40-some odd pitches today. Felt good. Felt strong at the end. So, it’s not the decision I’ll be making.

“I just want to pitch. Whatever it is, that’s fine.”

Time is indeed the biggest problem, although it is not the only consideration. 

The Red Sox have 18 games left. There is no intermediary step available to the Red Sox for Price to build up his pitch count outside of a major league game or another sim game. The minor league season is in its final days.

 

Price’s next outing, therefore, could be in the majors.

“I don’t know how many more times I have to do a live B.P., but if I come in tomorrow and feel fine, I don’t know what else I can do,” Price said when asked about his confidence he can be ready for the playoffs.

But here’s the thing: if Price wants to start, he’s going to need another sim game, at least as Farrell saw it Wednesday.

Farrell’s inclination, however, appears to have Price in relief.

“You’re looking at at least one more sim game,” Farrell said of starting. “That would be the need at a minimum. It is September. You’ve got guys that can build in innings behind him with a progression if you were to choose to do that. It would be aggressive to bring him back as a starter right now, in my mind.”

Price’s health, Farrell said, is the most important factor.

“Get him back to a certain level as far as game condition, game activity, is one,” Farrell said. “Then, what is he physically built up and the duration enable him to do?”

Determining what provides greater stress for Price, a relief or starting role, is not straightforward. There’s a familiarity factor to consider. 

The last time he pitched in relief was in the 2015 American League Division Series, with three runs allowed in three innings for the Blue Jays in Game 4 vs. the Rangers. He’s pitched in relief 11 times in his career between the regular season and postseason.

The pitch counts would be lesser in relief. Frequency of pitches would not be. Stress would be high either way. He’s comfortable pitching out of the stretch full-time.

“It’s always fatigue-related. So when does the fatigue show up? Is it late in the game after 100-plus pitches, or is it after frequent use?” Farrell said. “As it relates to David, I don’t have that exact answer. I do know this, what he’s showing us right now is all positive.”

That answer is an important one to figure out. But it’s not a sole factor.

The appeal of having Price — or simply, an effective starter — in the bullpen during the playoffs is easy to see. 

“I think what we’ve seen in past postseasons is that there’s a pitcher, whoever that pitcher has become, there’s been a multi-inning pitcher in there that has made major contributions,” Farrell said. “[In 2013] it was [Felix] Doubront. Prior to that I’m sure there were other guys who came out of the bullpen after they started or they had innings under their belt and contributed, whether it was Derek Lowe from years past, situations like that are not uncommon. But I don’t want to paint him as a reliever after today’s work.”

 

If rust is a concern for Price either way in a playoff setting, the idea he would be less risky in relief — in an impactful late-inning situation — is hard to buy. Pulling him out in the seventh inning may be easier on the relievers coming in behind him, as opposed to being yanked in the second inning. But that’s a contingency the Sox could plan for.

If Price’s arm can handle starting, it’s hard to look at the Sox’ rotation at present and see that there are four pitchers who deserve a spot while he does not. He was unsure of his velocity Wednesday, but he looked strong and the talk around him continues to be strong.

There doesn’t seem to be a great reason in the public arena right now preventing Price from making a trial start, so to speak.

"In September, it’s different just because we’re not taxing a bullpen [because of expanded rosters],” Farrell said when asked how many innings Price would need to be built up to for a start to be made. “We have the ability to cover the innings, so you could say that the progression would be to activate him and put him in a game at three innings and you continue to build that out. That’s one scenario. But again, these are things we have to sit down and discuss and determine what’s best for him."