By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Last year, the Boston Red Sox won 93 games and won their division despite getting just 11 starts out of David Price. Though Chris Sale had taken over as the ace of the staff, Price still figured to be an important part of the team’s success.
And with Price returning to the rotation for 2018 with confidence in the elbow situation that turned him into a reliever last year, it was reasonable to believe that this year’s team should be even better, bolstered by two top-of-the-rotation starters with Cy Young potential.
Thus far, though, Price has had a dreadful season.
The 32-year-old lefty’s latest showing was either his worst or his second-worst start of the year, depending on how you view his one-inning performance against the Yankees in early April. Regardless, Price struggled mightily in Texas on Thursday night, getting pulled in the fourth inning after walking in a run to give Texas a 6-3 lead. Hector Velazquez came on in relief and threw a wild pitch, allowing one more run to score, before serving up a bomb to Nomar Mazara. With that homer, Price was tagged with two more runs on the stat line.
And that stat line looked like this: 3.2 IP, 9 R, 7 ER, 6 H, 2 BB, 4 K. That showing bumped his ERA from 3.78 to 5.11. The Red Sox lost, 11-5.
“He wasn’t good,” manager Alex Cora said, per The Boston Globe. “That’s the bottom line.”
Price said his struggles are just tied in to a lack of command.
“Four out of my first five [starts], with the exception of the Yankee game, I felt like I commanded the baseball really well to both sides of the plate — fastball, cutter, changeup. That was what I did really well,” Price said. “In my last two starts I have not commanded the baseball the way that I did four out of those first five. That’s something I take a lot of pride in doing and I haven’t done that in my last couple.”
It was the third straight start in which Price allowed four or more runs, as his ERA has more than doubled since it stood at 2.25 following his start in Anaheim on April 17. The Red Sox are now 3-4 in games started by Price, who has a 2-4 record himself.
“This is always a game of adjustments,” Price said. “And I’ve got to make a couple of adjustments.”
Among qualified MLB starters, Price now ranks:
79th in ERA (5.11)
72nd in WHIP (1.405)
63rd in opponents’ batting average (.255)
67th in opponents’ OPS (.752)
Tied-55th in strikeouts (32)
Limiting the field to just American League pitchers, the rankings are:
36th in ERA
34th in WHIP
30th in opponents’ batting average
30th in opponents’ OPS
Tied-25th in strikeouts
That’s obviously not what the Red Sox were hoping to get out of Price when they signed him to the richest deal ever given to a pitcher prior to the 2016 season.
In the long term, it’s looking like a certainty that Price won’t be opting out of his contract following this season. His 3.98 ERA since 2016, compounded with his elbow issue in 2017, would make it awfully difficult for Price to enter free agency and make anywhere close to the $127 million he is owed by the Red Sox from 2019-2022. The only way Price chooses to opt out would be if he simply decides that he’s already made $90 million in Boston and it’s time to pitch somewhere that makes him happy. Financially, he’ll never get anywhere near his current deal.
In the short term, the 22-9 Red Sox need more out of Price, especially now that the surging Yankees sit just one game back in the AL East. Sale (2-1, 2.14 ERA, 0.976 WHIP) and Rick Porcello (4-0, 2.23 ERA, 0.843 WHIP) have both performed at or above their expected level, and the Red Sox can’t wait much longer for Price to start pulling his weight.
Price will get his next chance to regain his footing on Wednesday night in the Bronx, against the Yankees, in a stadium where he owns a 4.27 ERA in 19 starts.