Mr. Price Is Right In Tampa

By Bill Chastain
Updated: March 22, 2010

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — David Price is surrounded by a different vibe this spring. For once, he’s not the center of attention and, if it’s actually possible, he’s under the radar.

The No. 1 pick of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft, Price said the solitude of being under the radar is something he hasn’t experienced since his freshman season at Vanderbilt.

“My freshman year, nobody really knew who I was,” Price said.

That quickly changed with Price’s success at Vanderbilt followed by his selection by Tampa Bay, his rapid ascent through the Minor Leagues and the attention that reached a crescendo in the 2008 ALCS, when the stylish left-hander saved Game 7 against the Red Sox to thrust the Rays to their first World Series.

Price further found himself in the spotlight last spring when the questions about his status were front and center. Would he be in the rotation? If not, would he be the team’s closer? And, finally, would he even be in the Majors?

The Rays began the 2009 season with a rotation of James Shields, Scott Kazmir, Matt Garza, Andy Sonnanstine and Jeff Niemann. Price got sent down for a little more seasoning at Triple-A Durham.

“I kind of knew what was going to happen,” Price said. “I really didn’t think I was going to be up here. And Niemann did a ridiculous job last year. That’s just part of it. Hopefully I’ll be healthier because of it.”

Manager Joe Maddon explained why Price did not make the Rays out of Spring Training last year.

“When you come out of college with that kind of velocity, you throw the breaking ball, you’re going to get a lot of chase,” Maddon said. “So you get to pro ball, so maybe some of these pitches that guys have been chasing are now being taken. And now we’re getting into really bad counts, and when that begins to happen, you let up to get it over.

“It’s about throwing your fastball, not only throwing it for a strike, but where you want to throw it for a strike, then everything plays off of that.”

It’s ironic that Price finds himself in the shadows this spring since he has the kind of talent that stands out. He even looks healthier, as his 6-foot-6, 225-pound frame is leaner than in the past.

“I just ate well and worked out hard,” Price said, explaining his conditioning. “[I] worked out with the same guys at Vandy I always work out with. No real changes, though.”

The Rays promoted Price on May 25 and he went on to post a 10-7 record with a 4.42 ERA in 23 starts. Included in his work was a 7-3 record with a 3.58 ERA in his final 12 starts.

“He started making steady progress,” Maddon said. “As the season progressed, the fastball really started going where he wanted it to.

Beyond that, he was able to throw other things for a strike when he was in a fastball count, which is part of the development of the breaking ball.

“When you do get behind, you’re not just forced to be able to throw another fastball. He got to the point where he was throwing other pitches than the fastball in a fastball count and he was throwing them well. And that led to the success also.”

Price had more of a simple analysis of what happened.

“I just started throwing like myself,” Price said. “I just threw better.

I was thinking about so much stuff, being pulled in every direction.

[I] finally just took a stand for my stuff.”

Price has enjoyed this spring more than last spring, even though he said he’s doing the same things he did then.

“[It's] just a lot less stress,” Price said. “I don’t have to come to the yard and worry about the stuff I had to last year. It’s a lot easier for me this year. I’m a lot more relaxed. It’s a better feeling.”

Maddon knows what kind of talent Price has and understands he can be special. Toward that end, Tampa Bay’s manager said Price should continue to focus on his fastball command.

“He got a lot better with that at the end of last season,” Maddon said.

“If he can command his fastball, that’s going to make all of this other stuff better. If he cannot, it will make all of this other stuff moot.”

Price is a perfectionist, so he maintains he’s a work in process and acknowledges he needs work in every aspect of his game.

“I’ve got strengths and weaknesses and I’ve got to work on both of them,” Price said.

The difference between this spring and last spring is that he can work toward the elusive goal of perfection without doing so at Durham. Which might explain why he appears so relaxed and happy going about his business, though he attributes his frame of mind largely to his teammates.

“This is just a fun team,” Price said. “It’s laid back. We have a good time. It’s going to be fun.”