Red Sox

Drellich: All we are saying is give Price a chance

Drellich: All we are saying is give Price a chance

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Give David Price the benefit of the doubt, if you happen to doubt him. Afford him the chance to follow through. 

The Red Sox lefty arrived in a position of greater leadership last season, the first without David Ortiz. The messiness that ensued has been well documented. 

On Tuesday morning at JetBlue Park, he said he’ll handle that job differently going forward. 

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“I feel like I’ve always been one to lead with my actions, and I didn’t do that very well last year,” Price said. “And I know that and understand that, and I look forward to getting back and being that faucet and not being a drain.”

There’s a significant admission in that metaphor, one he’s used before. In a 2015 tweet, Price wrote:

What Price acknowledged Tuesday is that he acted in a way that is antithetical to his being. It's a notable mea culpa from a player in a position of power.

"I could've handled it better last year, absolutely, but I didn't, and I've moved on," Price said in a 17-minute talk with a large group of media. "I look forward to getting back this year and getting off on the right foot."

Price’s pitching in Boston has always been excellent when healthy, outside of the first seven starts of his Red Sox career. That first impression left a sour taste for some fans and some media -- certainly not for all -- and also inflated his 2016 ERA to 3.99.

But he was a major reason the Sox won the division in 2016. He had a poor start in the playoffs that year, but he was hardly the reason the Sox lost the Division Series to Cleveland. On the other hand, his bullpen dominance was the reason the Sox even had a chance in last year's DS against Houston.

He’s dominant if he’s able to take the mound. That hasn’t changed in Boston.

The scrutiny is what changed, as everyone knows. But people can grow and adapt, and what Price put forth on Tuesday was a calm message that in itself suggested growth.

Winters in baseball are meant for reflection and healing. Spring, now, is meant for opportunity.

“Relaxed, family,” Price said of how he was able to recharge. “That was the first offseason being a father, so that was -- it’s different, to say the least. But it’s the best thing I’ve ever been a part of, so it’s been good."

There’s no telling whether Price will indeed back up his words. The ball's in his court, the chance all his. But he should be given that chance in the court of public opinion, because one messy season a seven-year contract does not make.

Price has some help. New manager Alex Cora seems to be making inroads, and we can infer Cora is connecting with Price in a way that John Farrell did not.

“It's casual conversation,” Price said. “It’s not always about baseball, and I think that's good. We have a good relationship already, and that's talking more than just baseball.”

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Price is taking a matter-of-fact approach to fans and Boston: He'll be loved if he wins.

There still exists a natural, inherent conflict between Price and the media, and Price touched on it briefly Tuesday. 

In the middle of last year, Price stopped talking to most Boston media members individually. Price said on Tuesday that such interviews could start again this season, with a caveat.

“We can talk,” Price said. “But you're not going to come over and overload me with negativity. It's not going to happen. That's not going to happen.”

What defines overloading him with negativity? Reporting involves asking negative questions, and those do undoubtedly go overboard sometimes.

It’s almost a guarantee, at some point, Price will face an interview he does not like, with a reporter he deems in that moment -- rightly or wrongly -- to be a drain. 

The question is how he handles that moment. He has every right to end an interview. Would he do so in a way reflective of his commitment to the new form of leadership he spoke of Tuesday? 

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Price has contradicted himself in the past. He declared he was at peace last season at a time when he clearly was not . . . just before he began to take on the media, for example.

A year from now, we’ll better know if Price really meant what he said Tuesday. He can opt out of his contract after this season. Price was asked if he has any doubt as to whether he’d return to Boston next year. 

“No. There's not,” Price said. “I came here to win. I knew how tough it was to play here and pitch here. If you can go out there and win, I know all the emotions and everything's going to be better in that positive light. I look forward to doing that."

Everyone should look forward to seeing him do that, as well.

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Can Red Sox replace Carson Smith's style internally?

Can Red Sox replace Carson Smith's style internally?

Entering Tuesday night, opposing hitters had swung and missed at Joe Kelly’s changeup 82 percent of the time.

Last season, he barely threw the pitch, at about 2 percent. Now, per BrooksBaseball.net, Kelly’s using the change more than 9 percent of the time.

Carson Smith’s shoulder injury creates obvious “next-man-up” scenario for the Red Sox bullpen, just as any injury to a significant player would. It's likely that no matter how excellent Kelly or Matt Barnes or Heath Hembree are going forward, the Sox will need to add a reliever midseason if they want to make a deep run into the postseason. 

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There's also the Red Sox debut of right-handed reliever Tyler Thornburg, who has been rehabbing at Pawtucket, on the horizon. 

Nonetheless, with Smith down, there are opportunities for Barnes, Kelly and Hembree to not only step up into bigger roles, but perhaps to evolve stylistically as well. Just a tad.

Smith was a sinker-slider pitcher. Kelly, Barnes and Hembree rely more on power fastballs. Outs are outs and remain the bottom line, but part of what made Smith appealing was that different look he offered.

“It’s awful what happened, really,” Barnes said recently. “We’re all praying for him and hoping that it’s not too bad that he can come back and do fine . . . It definitely hurts. He was throwing really well the last month. He was a guy who’s dominant against righties and adds a different feel than the other righties we have in the bullpen. We got a good group down there. We’re fortunate that we have some depth: guys that have pitched in a lot of different roles over the years and are really comfortable in any role.”

Indeed, over the winter, Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski pointed to Smith as something of a separator amongst his righty relievers. None of the Sox relievers should change just for the sake of it. Their effectiveness is what matters most.

Kelly, though, might be most effective if he transitions a little. His stuff might allow the most wiggle room and he's very willing to experiment, be it with timing mechanisms or otherwise. 

https://www.nbcsports.com/boston/boston-red-sox/podcast-how-make-people-miss-100-mph-interviews-joe-kelly-and-brian-bannister

One of the perplexing things about Kelly has been how hard he throws and how few swings and misses his high-90s (and sometimes triple-digit) fastballs garner. Enter the changeup, as well as his slider and curveball. Kelly’s not throwing his breaking balls more than he used to overall, but they’re both creating more swings and misses in 2018. 

There hasn’t been an uptick in ground balls, as one would expect with a sinkerballer such as Smith. Still, as Kelly’s secondary stuff seems to take on better life, his identity need not be wrapped up so much in that fastball and whether or not it gains swings and misses.

As they move on without Smith, Sox relievers are comfortable in varied roles.

"It’s based on the conversations we have with [pitching coach Dana Levangie]," Barnes said of usage. "If you look at kind of the way things have played out the last three weeks to a month, we have an idea when I'm going to pitch based on the lineup, innings, scores of games. So, in a sense, we might not be the typical, old-fashioned [build where] you have your set eighth inning, you have your set seventh inning, and that kind of role. But there is definitely a role that we kind of each understand."

From there, if one of them can distinguish themselves slightly in terms of approach — Kelly seems the best candidate — a little variation could go a long way.

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Sources: Red Sox asking a lot for Blake Swihart

Sources: Red Sox asking a lot for Blake Swihart

The Red Sox are listening to trade offers for Blake Swihart. They are not willing to part with the benchwarmer for a small cost.

People familiar with some trade discussions described the Red Sox’ asking price as unreasonable for a player who isn’t playing and may be an odd man out when Dustin Pedroia returns in the near future.

“Hard to find a trade partner when you’re asking for some of teams' best prospects,” said a talent evaluator with one team that has talked to the Sox about Swihart.

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Swihart’s agent said last week that he has asked Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski to trade Swihart, who, barring a change of heart, likely will only get a look on this year’s Sox team if there’s an injury to Sandy Leon or Christian Vazquez.

In a head-scratching scenario overall, the Sox' strategy with Swihart may be to create a bidding war by designating him for assignment when Pedroia returns. At that point, teams can be assured he'll be traded imminently.

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