Friday, January 19, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Injury adds to Price's, Rays' struggles

ST. PETERSBURG

More than anything, maybe what David Price is allergic to is the 2013 season.

And opposing bats.

And third innings.

And two-strike pitches.

In Wednesday night's edition of The Price is Off, it was an injury that, at first glance, seems relatively minor. Price lasted seven whole outs before leaving the game against the Red Sox with tightness in his left triceps.

At the time, he already trailed 2-0, and he left two runners on base who soon scored, and before Price could get all the way up the tunnel, the Red Sox erupted for eight runs. All in all, it was just one more quarter-mile on the lousy journey that has been Price's lost season.

And now where does he go?

And does it include the disabled list?

You have to understand. By now, Rays fans are rather exasperated by their big-time pitcher. It has been the most mystifying part of this baseball season, the sudden fall to ordinary by Price, who was one of the game's most highly regarded pitchers only a few weeks ago. Price is now 1-4 on the season, and the Rays have won only two of his nine starts. The brilliance of last year's Cy Young season has become a rare sight.

His velocity has been down, which can be a difficult adjustment for a power pitcher. He could not stand being ahead (giving up eight leads in his previous six games). Everything about Price seemed to hint that a body-double had taken his place somewhere in the night.

And now this. In the third inning, Price felt tightness in the back of his pitching arm "four or five times." Price, 27, who has never been on the DL, said he had never felt anything like it. Finally, he motioned for help from the dugout.

For now, the injury does not appear to be serious. Manager Joe Maddon said he does not get "a negative vibe" about the arm. Asked his gut feeling, Price felt he would be okay.

Good thing. As ordinary as Price has been, a major injury would not only affect the Rays' chances of competing in the division race this year, but it could affect a potential trade of Price next year. This twinge could be felt by the Rays for years.

Allergies? A loss of velocity? A triceps strain?

For goodness sakes, what's next?

Who could have seen this coming? Look, history is filled with Cy Young winners who have slipped backward the following season. But not like this. Not so completely, not so convincingly. Price has been in a fog for most of the season. With every start, a teammate or a manager would insist that Price was going to turn it around. Still, it has not happened.

The expectations were the same on Wednesday night against Boston. After all, Price has been something of a Sox slayer over the years. In 16 starts against the Red Sox, he was 8-4 with a 2.99 ERA. There was something about Price on the mound in those games. You could count on him to be dominant.

And, for a couple of innings, Price was pretty good. In the third, however, he felt his first bit of tightness while walking Stephen Drew. Then Jacoby Ellsbury singled up the middle and Dustin Pedroia, despite going down 0-and-2, slapped a hit to right for one run. Seven pitches later, David Ortiz stroked a single to left against the shift.

And Price was done. At first, Maddon thought Price had injured his leg. But Price pointed to back of his arm, and soon afterward, walked off the mound with another issue at hand. And questions. Does Price miss his next start? The one after that? And what will we see when he is back?

That's a mystery, too. For most of the early season, Price has been lacking his old velocity. He touches 95 every now and then, but it used to be 97. He lives at 93, but that used to be 95. That's 6 inches of depth on his fastball.

"It's the difference between a ball that's fouled off and a well-struck ball," Maddon said before the game. "It's a ball in the gap vs. one that is popped up. It's incredible the difference a couple of miles an hour can make based on quality of contact."

Yet, Maddon was insistent that Price was on the verge of rolling off a hot streak. Granted, part of that is Maddon and his given outlook that every day will be sunny and the circus will always be in town. But Maddon seemed to believe it, largely because Maddon needed to believe it. As off of his game as Price has been, it is hard to see the Rays competing into September without him.

"I think he's just been a little off," Maddon said. "He hasn't been awful. People are concerned, but I'm not concerned. We're just looking for the little thing he has that the great ones have, and he can be a great one. I believe it's still there."

The more issues that pile up, however, the more questions there are. Is this just going to be one of those years for Price? Is he ever going to turn it around? How long will it be before he walks back to a mound?

And, when he does, will that be a good thing or a bad thing for the Rays?

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