Red Sox: David Price will join bullpen through postseason

BOSTON, MA - JUNE 29: David Price
BOSTON, MA - JUNE 29: David Price /

Boston Red Sox left-handed pitcher David Price will join the bullpen for the rest of the season and will remain in that relief role for the postseason.

The Boston Red Sox are finally getting David Price back but he won’t be in the rotation.

The team announced on Thursday that the left-hander has been activated from the disabled list ahead of Thursday’s game against the Oakland A’s. Price has been sidelined since July 28 with elbow inflammation. He has been deemed ready to return following a successful three-inning simulated game at Fenway Park on Wednesday, although manager John Farrell admitted it would be “aggressive to bring him back as a starter.”

Instead, Price will be brought back as a reliever. The earliest he’ll be available out of the bullpen is Sunday and he’s expected to remain in that role through the rest of the season and into the postseason.

Price is said to be accepting of his new role, stating that he wants to get back on the mound as quickly as possible. If the bullpen is the shortest path to helping the Red Sox win games, he’s on board. All the man wants to do is pitch.

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At this stage of the season, it would have been risky to push Price toward the rotation. It would take time for him to build up his arm strength to the point where he could handle a starter’s workload and time isn’t on their side. Even if he managed to work his way up to five innings in a simulated game next week, the best case scenario would leave him enough room to squeeze a start or two in at the end of the regular season. He would almost certainly be on a strict pitch count that would prevent him from going deep into games. The expanded September rosters make it easy for teams to bail out a starter who is knocked out of the game early, but could we trust Price to start a postseason game without seeing him handle his normal workload?

A case can certainly be made that Price can’t be trusted to start a postseason game regardless of how many pitches he’s prepared to throw. His 0-8 record as a starter in the postseason is well documented. While the narrative that Price can’t perform in the postseason is well overblown, one poor outing on the October stage would only serve to pour gasoline on the flames of what has already been a tumultuous season.

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While his track record in the postseason as a starter has been disappointing, Price has found success out of the bullpen before. The regular season sample is limited to five appearances but it’s a promising sample nonetheless. Price has allowed only two earned runs over 9 2/3 innings (1.86 ERA) as a reliever in his career with 10 strikeouts and one walk.

Who could forget Price’s coming out party as a rookie during the Tampa Bay Rays’ run to the World Series? Price allowed only one run over 5 2/3 innings out of the bullpen. Red Sox fans remember it well, considering that sample included three shutout appearances against Boston in the 2008 ALCS.

Granted, it’s been a while since Price has pitched out of the bullpen in a meaningful game. If he needs any advice on converting from a starter to a reliever, he can always turn to old friend Dennis Eckersley. Ok, maybe he’s better off avoiding Eck, but the Hall of Fame pitcher did provide the blueprint for revitalizing a career by converting into a lights-out reliever.

The Red Sox will be able to use Price for multiple innings out of the bullpen when necessary. Shorter stints compared to a starter’s workload will enable him to dial up the velocity on his fastball and prevent opposing hitters from getting several looks at him in the same game.

We saw last year when the Red Sox were swept in the opening round of the postseason by the Cleveland Indians how a dominant reliever can swing games by shutting down a lineup in any inning where the game hangs in the balance. If Farrell prefers to save closer Craig Kimbrel for later in the game, he can feel confident that Price can be that guy. Price can be the best version of Andrew Miller that Boston has had since they let Andrew Miller leave town.

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Price’s long term future remains in the rotation. His Cy Young decorated resume warrants the chance to start again, let alone the amount of money he’ll earn. However, the battle to regain his place in the rotation will have to wait until 2018. Right now the best chance Price has of helping the Red Sox win is out of the bullpen.