By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — As you surely know by now, David Price took the mound in the Bronx on Sunday night looking to follow up the dominant outing that Red Sox ace Chris Sale put forth on Saturday evening. But instead of showing in a game many considered to be his biggest start in a Red Sox uniform, Price turned in one of the very worst starts of his entire career.
Price served up five home runs to the Yankees, allowing eight earned runs and lasting just 3.1 innings. While those who overstated the significance of this one start on July 1 were going a bit overboard, there is no denying that this was a night when Price could have really inspired confidence by pitching a gem against a division rival. Now, though, the doubts about what Price can do against the Yankees will only intensify.
In two starts vs. New York this year, Price is now 0-2 with a … 24.92 ERA. In just 4.1 innings, he’s given up 12 runs — all earned — on 12 hits, eight of which have gone for extra bases and six of which have left the yard.
The struggles aren’t necessarily new, either. With Price spending the majority of his career in the AL East, he’s seen plenty of the Yankees. And the various iterations of the Yankees over the years have generally gotten the better of Price. He’s made 39 starts (and one relief appearance) against the Yankees in his career — more starts than he’s made against any other team, and 12 more starts against the team he’s faced the second-most often. In all that work, he has a 15-13 record, 4.90 ERA and 1.404 WHIP to show for it. Among opponents he’s faced at least 10 times, that’s the second-worst ERA and the second-worst WHIP; only the Rangers have hit him better. The 13 losses to New York are more than Price has against any other opponent.
As a member of the Red Sox, Price has been worse than those career averages. He’s 2-6 with an 8.43 ERA in his nine starts against the Yankees as a member of the Red Sox.
That’s particularly troubling this year, considering the Red Sox and Yankees have been neck-and-neck atop the AL East since the start of the season. With neither team looking susceptible to a major hiccup, and with the Yankees perhaps in better position to add an impact player before the trade deadline, and with the reality of the one-game playoff for the division runner-up looming, the importance of these head-to-head meetings cannot be overstated. That’s why a game like Sunday night received the type of hype that it did. And that’s why Price’s face-plant should be concerning.
Yet Price himself and his manager don’t appear to be concerned at all.
“Honestly, I felt fine,” Price said after taking the loss on Sunday evening. “They put some good swings on what I felt like were pretty good pitches. But whenever you’re facing a team and a lineup like that, you’ve got to make that really good pitch, especially in those situations.”
Price did admit, though, that some changes would need to be made to his approach to facing the Yankees.
“I’ve faced these guys a lot of times. I’ve been in this division for a long time and I’ve faced the Yankees many times,” Price said. “It’s time for me to kind of go back to that drawing board and kind of reinvent myself against these guys.”
According to Alex Cora, Sunday night’s results were more about the Yankees’ approach and game plan than it was about the pitches being thrown by Price.
“You start looking at the game, I think they did a good job of splitting the plate in half and not trying to pull him,” Cora said. “Seems like as a team they did a good job. That was a good game plan. And [Price] wasn’t as sharp either.”
Cora said he judges his players based on what he’s seen with his own eyes, so Price’s history against the Yankees doesn’t really impact his analysis.
“I haven’t seen it. I’ve seen this year. … I go by this year, man,” Cora said. “There’s a lot of stuff that you can throw the numbers up. It’s like Joe Kelly in the bullpen. Everybody thinks that he’s not a good one, and he can get lefties out. It’s just a matter of executing pitches. He didn’t today, he didn’t do it the first time at home. So it’s a work in progress. He’ll pitch against them probably again twice, we’ll make adjustments, they’re going to make adjustments, and we do feel he can get those people out.”
Cora stated twice that he holds no concerns about Price’s ability to perform against New York, and he reiterated that the Yankees’ approach was the difference-maker in this one particular start.
“I do feel the approach, it was a good approach today,” Cora said. “If you take a look at the game, it seems like the righties, they decided not to swing on the inside part of the plate. They split the plate, and they did a good job going the other way. And like I said, he wasn’t at his best.”
Cora clearly is showing that he’s got Price’s back. But unfortunately, video review tells a slightly different tale than the one Cora spun postgame.
On Aaron Judge’s first-inning homer, Price tried to blow a 94 fastball in on the righty’s hands. Judge kept his hands inside and barreled up the pitch on the inner edge, muscling it out 409 feet to center field. The crack of the bat was thunderous.
Cora said that the Yankees didn’t swing at pitches on the inside part of the plate; Judge had no problem with that one.
Later in the first inning, after Giancarlo Stanton recorded a 119-mph single off a Price changeup with the second-hardest hit single of the season across all of Major League Baseball and following a double by Didi Gregorius, Price faced Gleyber Torres. With a right-hander at the plate and a 1-1 count, Price again tried to sneak a fastball past Torres on the inside edge. Torres had zero trouble getting around on the 93 mph pitch, keeping his hands inside the ball and barreling it up for a 380-foot three-run homer.
Again, this was an inside fastball, something Cora said the Yankees laid off.
In the bottom of the second inning, Brett Gardner singled on a pitch that Price left right over the heart of the plate. In stepped Aaron Hicks, and on a 1-1 count, Price tried to bury a fastball down and in to the righty. Just as Judge and Torres did before, Hicks stayed on it, squaring up the ball and making perfect contact while sending it 370 feet to right field for a two-run bomb.
Once again, it was a fastball on the inner part of the plate. Price just couldn’t get his pitches past a bat.
When Hicks homered in the fourth inning, it came on a curveball that split the plate in half. Hicks crushed it 400-plus feet to straightaway center field.
That came after catcher Kyle Higashioka recorded his first career hit by wrapping a ball around the foul pole. That 400-foot blast came on a low cutter that stayed out over the heart of the plate on 1-2 count.
That’s five home runs, none of which came on pitches on the outer half. The Yankees did have a good approach, but that approach was largely a plan to absolutely crush Price’s better pitches and also take advantage of his mistakes. The computer running the account @MLBBarrelAlert must have nearly overheated with all the data that was coming through on Sunday night.
In that sense, Price’s problems may be more concerning than if he just wasn’t getting a good feel for the ball, or if his fingers were tingly, or if he was missing his spots. On all but the Higashioka homer, Price appeared to do what he wanted to do. He tried to fire inside fastballs past Judge, Torres and Hicks; the hitters were just better. Later, while trailing 7-0, Price tried to throw a curveball to at least keep Hicks off balance; Hicks just jumped all over it.
Cora might have based his evaluation off the results of the pitches. Generally you don’t see teams launch three opposite-field home runs on pitches from lefties that run inside on righties. But the Yankees’ ability to handle those pitches with ease exposes a problem that won’t be easy for Price or pitching coach Dana LeVangie to fix.
As Price said, it’s time to go back to the drawing board to reinvent himself when it comes to facing the Yankees. This 100-plus-win season in the making for the Red Sox could all prove to be useless if the team can’t confidently send their $30 million man to the mound against the divisional rival standing in their way.