David Price has turned around a rocky start to this season to show he’s still capable of being the ace the Boston Red Sox signed him to be.
Price began the season with consecutive seven inning shutout performances. Big deal, people sneered. Both starts came against the Tampa Bay Rays, a team most of us (incorrectly) assumed would be the division’s bottom-feeder. Let’s see how he does against a real team.
Then came a disastrous start in the Bronx in which Price was pulled after only one inning. We would later learn that the quick hook was due to Price losing feeling in his pitching hand. It didn’t seem like Davey Tingle Fingers was sticking around long anyway after the Yankees shelled him for four runs in the opening frame.
His next few outings would be a struggle. Price allowed at least four runs in each of his next three starts as his ERA inflated above the 5.00 mark. Here we go again. Either he’s hurt or he’s hurting the team with poor performances. It’s always something with this guy. We were left to wonder if Price would ever live up to his massive contract.
We’re not wondering anymore.
The Red Sox have won each of Price’s last seven starts. The lefty is 6-0 with a 2.24 ERA over that span. He hasn’t allowed more than five hits or three runs in any of those seven starts.
You wanted to see him step up in a big game? Two of his last three wins came against the reigning champion Houston Astros and a Seattle Mariners team that led the AL West division until Price knocked them down a peg.
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Price held the Mariners to one run over seven innings Thursday night in Seattle. He allowed only five hits, struck out seven and didn’t walk a batter.
The recent results have been impressive but it’s how Price has been doing it that makes him resemble his old self. A fastball that topped out in the low-90’s early this season has averaged above 93 mph in each of his last three starts. He was consistently hovering in the mid-90’s against the Mariners, topping out at around 96 mph.
Price has relied heavily on a fastball/cutter strategy. He throws his four-seam fastball nearly half the time and uses the cutter a career-high 29.5 percent of the time, per FanGraphs. He mixes in a changeup that has become more deadly with his regained fastball velocity. He’ll also still occasionally show us the curveball.
The repertoire seems to be working for him. The 3.76 ERA he carries is higher than you want from an ace-caliber pitcher due to a few early rough patches but he’s trimmed more than a full run off that figure in just over a month. Look beyond ERA and there are more promising signs.
Price’s 18.2 line drive percentage and 30.3 hard hit percentage are both the best rates he’s posted since joining the Red Sox. His 7.8 HR/FB is his best since 2015 and he’s striking out nearly a batter per inning.
The remarkable turnaround Price has shown this season is reminiscent of his first season in Boston. Red Sox fans were quick to label him a bust after a rocky six weeks to begin the 2016 season. Many were so eager to turn on him that they didn’t notice once he returned to form. Over his final 28 starts that season, Price went 13-8 with a 3.39 ERA.
The dilemma that Price finds himself in is that no matter how well he’s performed of late he won’t get the recognition he deserves until he does it against the Yankees. In the postseason. En route to a World Series title. Anything short of that is a failure in the eyes of Red Sox Nation.
Is that reasonable? Of course not. Yet when you’re making $30 million a year, expectations are going to be unreasonable. He may very well fall short in the end but for the first time in a while, these last seven starts have made the notion of Price living up to that contract look a bit more realistic.