When David Price put pen to paper on a seven-year, $217 million contract with the Red Sox, he knew expectations would be through the roof. Which is why when things went south for Price last year, the toughest sports city in America (although you could make an argument for Philadelphia—they did pummel Santa Claus with snowballs that one time) let him hear about it. And Price didn’t take kindly to the criticism, lashing out at media members, the fan-base … even Dennis Eckersley.
They can’t all be winners, right? Ben Affleck starred in Gigli. Robert De Niro made a film called Dirty Grandpa. Nicolas Cage was in … well how much time do you have? The point is, we all deserve a mulligan or two. Whether it was injuries, the stress of being the highest-paid pitcher in major league history, or some combination of the two, 2017 kicked Price’s butt.
Price knows he didn’t handle things well last season and admitted as much in interviews this offseason. But that’s the beauty of spring, isn’t it? Every April is a new beginning, a chance to wipe the slate clean. And that’s exactly what Price has done through two starts. The former Cy Young winner was exquisite on Thursday, limiting his former team, the Rays, to three hits over seven innings of shutout ball in Boston’s home opener. The atrocious conditions at Fenway Park—40-degree temperatures, wind swirling in the outfield—certainly worked in his favor. But let’s not forget the left-hander achieved almost identical results (7 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 5 Ks) in his previous start last Friday at Tropicana Field, where the stadium temperature is always set to a balmy 72 degrees. Considering how he’s looked in the early going, Price could probably pitch on Mars and still give the Red Sox seven scoreless.
Price will never be a bargain at his $31 million-a-year price tag, but you have to admit, he’s been razor sharp since the end of last season. In fact, Price hasn’t allowed a run since, wait for it … July 22. We know Chris Sale brings the thunder every fifth day but if Price can also return to Cy Young form, Boston is going to be a tough nut to crack in the American League. Of course, for that to happen, the Red Sox’s offense will need to cooperate. For the first eight innings on Thursday, Boston’s bats were nowhere to be found.
The Red Sox knew if they made it to extras they’d be all set—Boston won 15 of 18 extra-inning games last season and edged Miami in a 13-inning affair earlier this week. Trailing 2-0 following a home run by Matt Duffy—that was Duffy’s first long ball since August of 2016 after missing all of last year with an Achilles injury—the Red Sox went to work against Rays closer Alex Colome in the ninth. Hanley Ramirez cut Tampa’s lead in half with an RBI single before J.D. Martinez did his best to sabotage Boston’s comeback bid by grounding into a double play. That set the stage for Xander Bogaerts with two outs and a runner on third. The current league leader in doubles added to his tally with another two-bagger, plating Andrew Benintendi with the game-tying run. Bogaerts needed some help from Mother Nature as the wind carried Xander’s drive all the way to the Green Monster in left field.
Jackie Bradley had a chance to win it in the ninth but was thrown out on a close play at first base to end the threat. As fate would have it, JBJ got another bite at the apple in the 12th. This time he made good, beginning the frame by lacing a double to right field. Four batters later, Ramirez decided to take matters into his own hands, sending the Red Sox home with a walk-off single. It’s certainly been an eventful week for Ramirez, who homered against his former team, the Marlins, on Monday, before snapping a 2-2 tie with an RBI double in Tuesday’s 13-inning victory. Manager Alex Cora has shown confidence in Hanley by batting him third in the order and so far, his trust has paid off.
Thursday extended Boston’s win streak to six while also stretching Tampa’s losing skid to six. The high-powered Red Sox probably should have finished the Rays off sooner, especially with Tampa Bay using Thursday as one of its designated “bullpen days” (I elaborated on this phenomenon in a Dose last month). But a win is a win and the Red Sox can’t complain about their 6-1 start, even if the victories have come against lesser opponents. Boston’s offense has been hit-or-miss but the Red Sox’s starting rotation has been a thing of beauty, producing an absurd 0.86 ERA through seven starts. That includes turns by little-known right-hander Hector Velazquez as well as Brian Johnson, who joined Velazquez in shuttling between the majors and Triple-A last year. With Eduardo Rodriguez slated to debut on Sunday and Drew Pomeranz nearing a rehab assignment, Boston’s rotation will only grow stronger.
Cora drew considerable criticism for pulling Chris Sale after only six innings in last week’s season opener, but the first-year skipper has pressed most of the right buttons since as the Red Sox have opened up an early two-game lead in the AL East. The power-hitting Bronx Bombers won’t go quietly but if the first week has taught us anything, it’s that the Red Sox won’t either.
AL Quick Hits: Miguel Cabrera fell rounding first base on a single Thursday against the White Sox and later left the game with left hip flexor tightness. Cabrera said he felt “fine” after the game, suggesting the Tigers took him out as a precaution. Consider the former MVP day-to-day … Mark Trumbo (quad) played right field during an extended spring training game on Thursday and will shift to first base for more work on Friday. He should be close to beginning a minor league rehab assignment … Yuli Gurriel has begun a rehab assignment with Double-A Corpus Christi. He’s finally nearing 100 percent after undergoing surgery on his left hand in late February. Look for the Astros to activate Gurriel when first eligible next Friday … Trayce Thompson is making the rounds. Two days after the Yankees claimed him off waivers, Thompson was claimed again, this time by Oakland. Thompson will now be playing in the same city as his older brother, Warriors guard Klay Thompson … Paul Blackburn has been transferred to the 60-day disabled list. Forearm tightness has plagued the right-hander since spring training … Phil Hughes made a rehab start for High-A Fort Myers on Thursday. The Twins right-hander is working back from a left oblique strain … Ervin Santana has yet to resume throwing and may need a follow-up on his surgically-repaired right middle finger. The 35-year-old led the Twins in wins (16), strikeouts (167) and ERA (3.28) last season while earning his second All-Star nod … The Mariners were hoping to activate Mike Zunino from the disabled list this weekend, but now it looks like he’ll need more time. Zunino strained his oblique in batting practice last week … Ben Gamel began a minor league rehab assignment with High-A Modesto on Thursday. The Mariners outfielder spent much of spring training recovering from a strained oblique … Seattle manager Scott Servais expects Nelson Cruz to resume baseball activities within the next day or two. The veteran DH landed on the DL with a sprained right ankle earlier this week and should be back when first eligible … Adrian Beltre contributed two hits in Thursday’s win over Oakland. That gives him 3,055 for his career, the most ever for a Latin-American-born player. Rod Carew had been the previous record holder … James Paxton showed impressive poise on Thursday, barely batting an eye when a bald eagle landed on his shoulder during pregame warmups. Explaining his predicament, the left-hander said, “I’m not going to outrun an eagle, so I just thought, we’ll see what happens.” Paxton allowed two runs over five-plus innings in a no-decision against the Twins.
NL Quick Hits: Corey Knebel suffered a painful hamstring injury in Thursday’s loss to the Cubs. He’ll undergo an MRI on Friday and could be facing a lengthy absence. Josh Hader and Jeremy Jeffress will be candidates to fill in at closer for the Brewers while Knebel is on the disabled list … Christian Yelich sat out Thursday’s game against the Cubs due to stiffness in his right oblique. Injuries aside, Yelich has gotten off to a great start with Milwaukee, hitting .385 with a homer and five RBI in 26 at-bats … Jon Lester did the unthinkable on Thursday night—he threw out a runner trying to steal. Watch him bounce this throw to nab Ryan Braun at third base … Nationals GM Mike Rizzo agreed to a two-year extension, keeping him under contract through 2020. He’s served as the Nats’ GM since 2009 … When Steven Souza suffered a strained pectoral muscle in spring training, the Diamondbacks didn’t expect him back until mid-May. Now there’s a chance he could return by the end of the team’s road trip or at the start of Arizona’s next home-stand, which begins on April 17 … Greg Holland fired a scoreless inning Thursday in a tune-up outing for High-A Palm Beach. The All-Star closer is expected to debut with the Cardinals early next week … The Mets continued their hot start by claiming their fifth win in six tries Thursday at Washington. Michael Conforto enjoyed a successful return, homering off Stephen Strasburg in his first game back from shoulder surgery … Did Tim Tebow homer in his debut for Double-A Binghamton? You bet.