By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — David Price was going to face intense scrutiny in Boston no matter what, given his annual $31 million price tag. But the pitcher’s distasteful recent off-field behavior has turned up the heat to scorching new levels.
All Price can do is pitch well, and he better do it now. But Friday night may not be the night that he does it.
In a potentially infuriating new twist, the Boston Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy tweeted on Friday morning that Price’s previously injured elbow is “barking again” and speculated that the Red Sox might place him on the disabled list before his scheduled start on Friday against the Royals. If the injury is real, the timing of it would be extraordinarily convenient. (UPDATE: Price will be placed on the 10-day disabled list on Friday.)
Friday would mark Price’s first start since the details of his spat with NESN color man and Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley became public knowledge. It would come against a red-hot Royals team that has won eight in a row and is coming off a 16-2 win over the Tigers on Wednesday. The Royals are tied for the American League lead in runs scored (75) and home runs (20) in the last two weeks.
Besides perhaps his 2016 playoff start against the Indians, the pressure has never been higher for Price in a Red Sox uniform. The best thing for him to do would be to deliver a strong performance and a win to get the Red Sox back on track. The worst thing he could do would be to bow out with an injury and fail to address anything publicly.
If you have a single decent or mature bone in your body, you’re taking Eckersley’s side over his recent confrontation with Price on the team plane. Accounts of the incident paint a picture of a man who ambushed Eckersley with a group of teammates like a gang of junior high bullies on a school bus. However, the now-infamous clash won’t matter if the Red Sox keep winning games. Likability is not required for a championship to make fans happy.
But since rattling off five straight wins in the wake of the June 29 plane incident, the Red Sox are 7-12. Price posted a 0.90 ERA in three starts since confronting Eckersley, but allowed five earned runs in five innings against the Angels last Saturday. That was the night before Shaughnessy’s explosive column came out, detailing the confrontation.
If Price’s barking elbow is merely a diversion by the Red Sox to protect him from facing the Fenway crowd on Friday, some of which may shower him with pregame boos if he does, it would actually do nothing to help him. If the goal is to wait for the off-field controversy die down, it would likely have the opposite effect. The public criticism would only get worse.
Arguably the biggest concern of the whole off-field drama with Price and his treatment of Eckersley is that he had a group of teammates joining him in a mock cheer against the Hall of Famer, which reportedly included Dustin Pedroia. Price is ostensibly beginning to exert the kind of influence on the Red Sox clubhouse that he never could have had with David Ortiz around.
Price is inarguably sensitive and simply can’t handle the intensity of the media coverage and fan pressure in Boston – which, in fairness, is often excessively cynical and nasty – with any kind of maturity. He doesn’t handle his business like Chris Sale, who does his best to ignore things beyond his control, or former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, who often responded to criticism by performing and shutting fans up.
But if Price is pulling the rest of the Red Sox clubhouse in his direction, if the majority of the team suddenly can’t ignore the noise and focus on playing the games, that’s a bad sign for a team that is clinging to a half-game lead in the AL East and will play 15 intra-division games in August.
Price may not owe the media some kind of explanation for his behavior; there’s zero chance he personally feels the need to explain himself. You may not even feel he owes Eckersley or anyone else an apology. But a sudden DL stint and continued hide-and-seek act from the public eye won’t do anything to make this story go away.
The only way for Price to truly make the controversy disappear is to pitch well, and he may yet do that. Winning can cure whatever ills may exist. Even John Lackey won Red Sox Nation over with his championship performance in 2013.
But based on Price’s recent behavior, and his curiously-timed elbow injury, he doesn’t appear close to being ready to do what it takes to succeed here.
Matt Dolloff is a writer/producer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, CBS, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @Dolloff985 and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.