It is only May, but last night’s game against the Seattle Mariners was a must-win contest for the Tampa Bay Rays. They had lost 6 of their last 7 games, including a 12-4 drubbing to the Mariners in the season opener, and they needed their ace, David Price, to turn things around. The Rays had been struggling on many fronts, but Price’s inconsistency may have been the most frustrating of them all. The Rays had lost Alex Cobb, Matt Moore, and Jeremy Hellickson to injury, but right when the Rays needed him most, Price was not doing the job. For the Rays and for Price, they needed a breakthrough game. Price was able to deliver.
Price went the complete game allowing just 1 run on 6 hits, striking out 12 while walking none. He was not perfect, and four of the six hits he allowed were actually doubles. But in this game, the big difference was Price’s velocity. According to Brooks Baseball, Price averaged 94.91 MPH on his sinker, his highest mark since last year’s one-game playoff against the Texas Rangers. Price also used the velocity as well as ever, attacking hitters and often blowing it right by them. His nine swings-and-misses on his fastball were his most since 7/30/12. Price said after the game that he was making an effort to recapture his 2012 glory. Between his velocity and his results, he most certainly did so.
Even if Price can continue to throw his fastball harder, he is most certainly a different pitcher than he was in 2012. In that season, his fastball averaged 96.12 MPH, and he could reach back to hit the upper-90’s. Now, 96 MPH is what Price reaches back for, and he is never going to overpower hitters in the same way. That said, however, Price has also made quite a few improvements. He throws significantly more strikes than he did back then, walking just 1.3 batters per 9 innings and a puny 0.9 per 9 this year. Right now, Price has a 10.1 K/9 to pair with that 0.9 BB/9–we will have to see if Price can keep that up, but no pitcher in the history of baseball has managed a K/9 over 9.0 and a BB/9 under 1.0 while qualifying for the ERA title. Even more amazing is that Price was doing that with his fastball often sitting in the 91-92 MPH range. If Price can combine his newfound control with consistent mid-90’s fastball, hitters are going to be in for a tough time.
Aside from his fastball, Price has also made marked improvements with his cutter and changeup since then, throwing both for strikes more often while also forcing more swings-and-misses. Price has been forced to rely upon them more often than he did in 2012 because his fastball has not always been effective. If the increased velocity allows him to throw his fastball more, than it will only make both pitches more effective.
David Price is not ever going to be the same pitcher that won the 2012 Cy Young award, but he doesn’t have to be. Between the improvements he has made to his control and secondary pitches and the oomph in his fastball that he showed that he still has, he is still very much an ace and can return to being one of the best pitchers in baseball. Price’s start on Tuesday night may go down as the game where he found a way to integrate his 2012 velocity and 2013 control, and if he does, the 2014 version of him will be as scary as ever.