Saturday, February 17, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Rays' ace Price eases concerns

ST. PETERSBURG — Trade him. Now. And his little yappy dog, too. Deal David Price. Get something for him. While he's hot!

I'm kidding, of course.

Hey, at least we can clown around a little bit today about Price. Up until Tuesday night, Mr. Cy Young was Sigh Young and more than just a little bit of a concern. He had started four games and the Rays had lost all four, with Price taking the loss in two of them.

But you're breathing a little easier today, aren't you? Feeling just a tad better, right? Turns out, Price still knows how to pitch.

That's all we can celebrate today because we still can't celebrate a Price victory. Here we are, nearly a month into the season, and the Rays' best pitcher still doesn't have a victory. In fact, he picked up another loss — his third, only two fewer than he had all of last season.

That's still not good.

But at least we saw a return of his stuff. Price allowed three runs on eight hits — all singles — over eight-plus innings while striking out five in the Rays' 4-3 loss to the Yankees.

He looked kind of like, well, David Price.

Before Tuesday, on the surface, everything was okay. Of course, it was. That's the way it always is with the Rays.

The clubhouse could be on fire and the roof could be caving in and skipper Joe Maddon would say the Rays were ready to remodel the joint anyway.

So it was no surprise that Maddon showed no concern, even though his ace went into Tuesday night's start with an ERA north of six and a fastball south of 93 mph.

Meantime, Price showed even less concern, which is not to suggest that he didn't care, but that he hadn't lost faith.

"Without a doubt, we have a lot of confidence to go out there and play behind David," outfielder Matt Joyce said. "We know that he is going to give it his best and that we have a great chance of winning."

The rest of us?

Well, there certainly was reason for concern coming into Tuesday's game. Only once in baseball history had a team lost the first five starts of the defending Cy Young Award winner. That was in 1989 when the Twins lost the first five starts of Frank Viola, who went on to have a 17-loss season between the Twins and Mets.

Then again, these things happen. It's baseball.

"I think that's a shock to everybody," Joyce said. "But at the same time, it's a long season. Obviously David is who he is for a reason. We understand that it's baseball, man. Sometimes it goes that way. It's a roller coaster. It's a weird game."

In other words, sometimes, for no reasonable explanation, a pitcher just can't find the winning formula, even if it's for a start, a week, a month or even a season.

For example, Hall of Famer and former Orioles great Jim Palmer strung together four consecutive 20-win seasons then, shockingly, had a 7-12 season. Then he put up another four consecutive 20-win seasons.

Another Hall of Famer, former Mets great Tom Seaver, posted an 11-11 season smack dab in his prime.

In recent seasons, we've seen former Cy Young winners such as Tim Lincecum and Zack Greinke suddenly hit the skids and then snap out of it again.

Giants ace Matt Cain went into Tuesday night's start with numbers strikingly similar to Price's. He was 0-2 with a 7.15 ERA and the Giants were 0-4 in games he started.

So … it happens.

Unfortunately, the Rays can't afford to have it happen to Price. Not now that James Shields is gone. Let's face it, if the Rays are going to play well into October, Price has to be better than just throwing well. He has to win, even when the Rays struggle to hit, as they did again Tuesday.

His performance against the Yankees didn't necessarily prove that he was all the way back. His fastball did hit 95 mph once in the first inning, but most of the night he was in the 91-93 range, still a few ticks below his normal velocity.

And, well, ultimately, the Rays did lose. But it wasn't Price's fault. Not this time.

Now, about those bats.

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