David Price is coming back. It won’t be sudden or immediate–he will have a simulated game on Thursday followed by three rehab starts if everything goes as planned. What did surprise us, though, was just to hear Price’s name again. Over the last month, the 2012 AL Cy Young Award winner has found himself becoming a spectator or more accurately a specter, a vague image of some past success that you couldn’t quite put your finger on. It’s as though with Price died the Rays’ starting rotation dynasty, leaving a glorified Devil Rays rotation in its place. Price was helpless as one starter then another fell apart, turning the Rays from a team knowing all it needed was a couple of runs of support to a team wondering whether the pitching staff would blow it again. After not losing a single time when scoring seven or more runs in 2011 and 2012, the Rays have already lost four such games this season. And there was no “everything will be fine when Price comes back.” Price was right there in front of us sitting in the dugout, even acting like his usual animated self, yet he was a forgotten man in all our eyes.
Which was harder for Rays fans to endure, Price’s struggles in the first month and a half of the season or his absence since the middle of May? No matter how cynical fans could be, they knew that as long as Price was on a mound he was going to turn himself around. He was just too good. Fans saw the flashes of the pitcher that is right up there among the best and baseball and every successful start they were convinced that he had finally broken through. When Price proceeded to fall apart again, fans just shook our heads and kept waiting. It was frustrating and everyone’s patience was starting to run thin, yet there was a sense of cautious optimism knowing that it was only a matter of time before Price reverted back to the pitcher he’s capable of being. But then he hit the disabled list and all the optimism evaporated.
For a few days, there was a sense of panic among Rays fans–how would the Rays survive without David Price? But that panic was replaced by the excitement of the pitchers who would take Price’s rotation spot. Jake Odorizzi came up and gave the Rays their first return on the James Shields trade. Alex Colome tossed 5.2 electrifying innings to blow away the Miami Marlins. Then came Chris Archer, the prodigal son finally home and ready to deliver on the potential he showed last season. For Odorizzi, it was continuously repeated that he was replacing Price’s rotation spot, but after that Price left the equation. He wasn’t there and these young pitchers were. He was irrelevant. Which was tougher for Price, the agony of his struggles before he went down or the fans’ apathy over his absence as his replacements stole the show?
Who is more desperate for Price to return to action, Price or the Rays? Price is sick and tired of his weakness, his incapability to make a difference. He’s had enough of fading into the background after being the center of attention for so long. He wants to prove to himself and everyone else that he remains a frontline pitcher and is worth every penny of the 10.1125 million dollars he’s making this season. He just wants to do something and do it at the earliest possible second. The Rays have graver concerns. They need Price to stabilize their rotation and reemerge as one of the top trade chips in baseball following the season. But while Price has been gone, they have kept going. Price has just been stuck on the sidelines. While Price was out, he got to experience just how lucky he is to be a major league baseball pitcher and how quickly it all can end. He struggled through the torpor of the fans and itched to prove that he’s deserving of their renewed admiration, his contract, and of the position he finds himself in as the ace of what has been one of the best pitching teams his baseball. He has never been more desperate to get on a mound. And his desperation will be what drives him to return to the major leagues with alacrity and come back as the same pitcher he was last season, only now with something to prove.