The highest-paid player in Red Sox history is about to do something he hasn’t done all year—pitch for the Boston Red Sox.
A former Cy Young winner returning from a major injury will always be front page news, but which version of David Price will the Red Sox be getting when he makes his season debut Monday against the White Sox? In the early days of Price, that was never a question. Back then there was only one version of Price: the one that showed up every fifth day to put on a clinic. Price was a remarkably consistent pitcher before joining the Red Sox, recording a minuscule 2.97 ERA with 94 wins from 2010-2015. That six-year stretch would later become known as the Golden Age of David Price.
Even if it took a little longer than expected, Price’s return to a big league mound on Memorial Day has to be thought of as a huge victory, not because of who Price is but because of how dire things looked for him back in March. I remember escalating the situation to Threat Level Midnight with this panicked Dose I wrote back in spring training. At that point, Price was being looked at by famed surgeon Dr. James Andrews, which is usually a worst-case scenario. It looked dicey for a minute but Price was able to avoid elbow surgery and now at long last, he’s ready to rejoin the Red Sox’s starting rotation.
But back to my original thought bubble—which David Price will be in attendance Monday at Guaranteed Rate Field (which I guess is what they’re calling Comiskey Park these days)? Coming off a lousy first year in Boston and an even lousier rehab stint with Triple-A Pawtucket, Price’s reign as MLB’s Mr. Reliable has come to an abrupt end. Price’s velocity is about where it should be—he topped out at 95 mph during his rehab while mostly sitting in the 92-94 mph range. But how can the Red Sox feel any sort of confidence after seeing Price get bombed for seven hits and six runs (three earned) over 3 2/3 innings Wednesday in his final tune-up?
I realize there’s a danger in overanalyzing minor league rehab starts. The main objective is to dust off the cobwebs, which Price has successfully done over his last two outings. I thought MLB Network analyst John Smoltz brought up a fascinating point when he theorized that minor leaguers tend to save their best for big league stars like Price. For Price, making the hour-long trek from Boston to Pawtucket is a means to an end—get your work in and hopefully make enough progress so you’ll never have to come back. But it’s a much different mindset for the hitters he’s facing. For fringe players still trying to make their case for the big leagues, smoking one off a former Cy Young winner would probably be a good place to start.
And on the other side of the coin, maybe Price was saving a little juice for when the games actually matter. Price didn’t have his best stuff when he made a rehab start in 2013, allowing two runs in only 2 1/3 innings for High-A Charlotte. Once he got back to the big leagues, he went 9-4 with a 2.53 ERA over his final 18 starts. That’s quite the turnaround, though it’s important to remember that Price was 28 back then and had much less mileage on his arm than he does now.
As if the shark-infested waters of Boston sports radio needed another reason to ambush Price, the left-hander set himself up for scrutiny by ducking out on his media obligations after Wednesday’s tough outing. Blowing off small-market reporters who were probably waiting all week to talk to Price isn’t a good look, especially when you make your escape in this $230,000 monstrosity.
Price isn’t the first player to leave the media hanging and he won’t be the last. But to me, seeing Price slip out the backdoor without talking to anyone shows me that he’s frustrated with how he pitched, which isn’t a good sign heading into his debut on Monday. It also shows me that Price is still adjusting to Boston after spending the bulk of his career in small-market Tampa Bay. Maybe Price just had an off year in 2016 but I’m sure the increased media presence and added pressure of pitching for a household name like the Red Sox played some role in his early struggles. The pressure-packed environment of Boston isn’t for everyone, as evidenced by the failures of Carl Crawford and countless other big names who never panned out, which makes Chris Sale’s seamless transition this year all the more impressive.
Regardless of whether Price ever returns to the Cy Young form he showed at previous stops in Tampa Bay, Detroit and Toronto, the Red Sox need healthy bodies to chew up innings. That’s a low bar to clear, especially considering Price’s prodigious track record, but surely the Red Sox would settle for mere competence at this point. The patchwork group of starters Boston used to replace Price (that includes Brian Johnson, Kyle Kendrick, Hector Velazquez and Steven Wright) went a combined 2-5 with a pitiful 9.35 ERA over nine starts. So just by showing up, Price is already giving the Red Sox a massive upgrade. And who knows, maybe he’ll catch a second wind and return to ace status, giving the Red Sox a formidable 1-2 punch along with Chris Sale.
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Speaking of Sale, he’ll follow Price in the rotation Tuesday in his first start against the White Sox since December’s blockbuster trade. Sale’s final year with Chicago was anything but pleasant—he openly criticized the team for banning Adam LaRoche’s son from the clubhouse (which eventually led to LaRoche’s retirement) and was later suspended for cutting up throwback jerseys he found uncomfortable. That surely left White Sox fans with a bad taste in their mouths, though that doesn’t erase Sale’s seven years of complete and utter dominance including five straight All-Star appearances from 2012-16.
Despite his nearly three-month rehab, I can’t help but feel like Price is being rushed back. Neither of his starts in Pawtucket were very convincing and it seems like the Red Sox are just desperate to have another arm after two months of aimless mixing and matching. Is it too soon to take the training wheels off of Price? We’ll find out on Monday.
AL Quick Hits: Cam Bedrosian (groin) is expected to face live hitters over the weekend and could begin a rehab assignment next week. Bedrosian began the year as the Angels’ closer but with Huston Street (shoulder) on the mend and Bud Norris excelling in the ninth inning, Bedrosian may have to settle for a setup role upon his return … Edwin Diaz picked up his eighth save Thursday against the Nationals. Diaz was removed from the closer role last week after seeing his ERA balloon to 5.28 but it didn’t take long for him to pull himself out of manager Scott Servais’ doghouse … Led by Drew Pomeranz and his 11 Ks, the Red Sox tied the major league record for most strikeouts in a nine-inning game by recording 20 punch-outs in Thursday’s win over the Rangers. Craig Kimbrel contributed to Boston’s strikeout bonanza by fanning four batters in the ninth inning … Ever wonder what David Ortiz is up to these days? Here’s a clip of him acting out scenes from The Town, Good Will Hunting, Fever Pitch and The Departed.
NL Quick Hits: Eduardo Nunez was originally listed in the Giants’ lineup Thursday against the Cubs but was scratched due to a lingering hamstring injury. Nunez received treatment during the game and is hoping to suit up Friday night against Atlanta … Closer has been a revolving door for the Nationals this year. After previously experimenting with Blake Treinen, Shawn Kelley and Matt Albers, manager Dusty Baker has now assigned ninth-inning duties to Koda Glover. The 24-year-old has converted three-of-four save opportunities with a 2.57 ERA this season … Jameson Taillon completed a 35-pitch bullpen session on Thursday. The right-hander underwent surgery for testicular cancer earlier this month. There’s no timetable for his return … Not a great day at the office for Phillies outfielder Odubel Herrera. He finished 0-for-5 with five strikeouts in a victory over the Rockies on Thursday. They call that a Platinum Sombrero … Asdrubal Cabrera was activated from the disabled list on Thursday after missing nine games with a sprained left thumb. He appeared as a pinch-hitter in the Mets’ loss to San Diego … Jacob deGrom had been scheduled to pitch Thursday’s game against the Padres but instead the Mets pushed his start back to Friday due to weather concerns. Rafael Montero started in his place and scattered five hits, three runs and three walks over three lackluster innings for his fourth loss of the season … Padres right-hander Dinelson Lamet made his big league debut Thursday against the Mets. The 24-year-old impressed, allowing just three hits, one run and two walks over five stellar innings for his first career victory. He also finished with eight strikeouts … Brad Hand pitched the ninth inning for his second save Thursday against the Mets. That came only hours after Padres manager Andy Green wouldn’t commit to using Hand as the team’s closer. Hand is reportedly drawing heavy interest around the league, making it likely that he’s dealt before the July 31 trade deadline … Jeff Samardzija walked Ian Happ in the sixth inning of Thursday’s loss to the Cubs. Prior to that, he hadn’t issued a free pass since April 28, a span of 154 straight batters without allowing a walk … Kenta Maeda (hamstring) was activated from the 10-day disabled list on Thursday. The Dodgers cleared a roster spot for him by placing Joc Pederson on the 7-day concussion DL. Maeda wasn’t sharp in his return to the mound (5 IP, 7 H, 3 ER, 2 BB) Thursday night, though he did chip in with a two-run single off Cardinals starter Michael Wacha … Yadier Molina extended his hitting streak to 14 games by slapping a pair of singles in Thursday’s loss to the Dodgers. That’s the longest active streak in the major leagues … The Cubs’ themed road-trips under manager Joe Maddon have been well documented. This one might be their best yet: Anchorman (appropriate since they’ll be in San Diego next week). All of these outfits are great but John Lackey’s Champ Kind is the clear winner.