On Tuesday, David Price made his long-awaited return to the major leagues after missing a month and a half with a triceps strain. Before the game, no one knew what to expect. By the end of the night, though, everyone knew without a doubt that David Price was back. Price went 7 innings allowing just 3 hits, striking out 10 and not walking a single batter. Limited to 90 pitches on the outing, he wound up throwing just 70, 48 of which were strikes. Let’s take a look at what made Price so successful and what he will have to continue working on as he hopes to get back to being among the best pitchers in baseball.
David Price’s first pitch of the game was a 94 MPH fastball. His next five pitches were all clocked at 95 MPH, and by the end of the game he had touched as high as 97 and averaged 95.32 MPH overall according to Brooks Baseball. It was the type of velocity we’re used to seeing from Price–and a stark contrast from where his velocity was earlier in the season, when his average velocity was just 94.15 MPH. It wasn’t just the velocity that made Price’s fastball so effective in this outing, but his ability to throw it for strikes. Price threw it for a strike 24 of 34 times (70.6%) including a ridiculous seven called strikeouts. How in the world did he manage that? The answer was that Price was not only throwing very hard but doing so with his two-seamer. Price’s two-seamer actually came in at 95.72 MPH while his four-seamer was only at 93.80 MPH, and when you’ree getting great two-seam movement on a 95 MPH fastball and locating it for strikes, there’s simply nothing hitters can do. It was exhilarating to see Price’s fastball velocity back to where it used to be and and baffling opposing hitters time after time.
The bizarre part about Price’s outing was that he only forced seven swings-and-misses all game. The seven whiffs marked the lowest count in any of Price’s fourteen 10-strikeout games that Price has managed in his career. The previous low was eight on 5/5/11 and 6/22/11. The reason: Price’s fastball was overbearing but his secondary pitches were not very good. Price’s curveball has been an issue for him all season, and while Price did use it to make Chris Carter look silly on a first-inning strikeout, he wound up throwing it just 6 times all game. He threw his cutter 11 times but did not force a single swing-and-miss and threw it for a strike just 6 times. His changeup was very effective, going for a strike 13 of 19 times (68.4%) and forcing a trio of whiffs. But when you look at this chart of Price’s pitch locations from this game from Texas Leaguers, several red flags have to be raised.
It’s pretty alarming how many pitches Price kept up all game. It was surprising at times how perplexed the Astros were by belt-high fastballs, and Price will have to improve his command or a better offensive team will take advantage. The bigger location issues, though, lie with his cutter, changeup, and curveball. The cutter came into the bottom half of the strike zone just once all game, and even then it was borderline as Price hanged it several teams but got away with it only because hitters were looking fastball. IT’s pretty amazing that he threw three cutters middle or middle-in and none of them were hit hard. Price threw his changeup within the zone a lot, but quite a few of them were in hitting zones and a few of them were right down the middle. Price’s changeup is a good pitch, but it’s not James Shields or Jeremy Hellickson-esque. He has to do a better job getting it down or hitters will take advantage. And then there was the curveball, which ended up squarely right down the middle twice, which was enough for Price to scrap it. Price pitched great and those mistake pitches weren’t drilled just as much because of the dominance of his fastball as pure luck and the inferiority of the Astros offense. But Price can’t count on his fastball being so effective moving forward and he has to find a way to command his secondary pitches better.
The takeaway from David Price’s first start back in the major leagues has to be the explosiveness of his fastball. Its velocity was back and he was throwing for strikes as much as we’ve even seen from him, and the Astros were absolutely bewildered. Even though the results were so outstanding, though, Price still has a long way to go getting back up to full strength as a pitcher. He has to do a better job keeping his fastball and especially his secondary pitches down in the zone because better hitters will pummel him if he doesn’t. That being said, though, command is so often the last thing that comes back for a pitcher coming off of injury. The most important thing for Price was his fastball velocity and we know he’s good enough to tighten up his pitches’ location in his coming starts. Price’s troubles within the zone are less a foreboding sign and more a signal to Price about what he has to work on. If Price can pair his revitalized fastball with his other offerings coming in as effective as usual, a return to his 2012 level of performance could very well be coming.