When the Boston Red Sox signed former Cy Young Award-winning pitcher David Price to a $US217 million contract in late 2015, they didn’t envision him as a reliever. Now, less than two years later, his work out of the bullpen could be the key to postseason success.
Despite his impressive resume, Price didn’t pitch to his potential this season. He missed extended time due to an elbow strain and arm stiffness, posting a 3.82 ERA in 11 starts.
When Price returned from his latest malady in mid-September, the Red Sox decided to try something different. Instead of slotting him back into the rotation, they sent the 32-year-old southpaw to the bullpen in hopes that the new role and decreased workload would revitalize their fallen star.
So far, the results have been eye-popping: 13 strikeouts, two walks, and just three hits allowed over 8.2 scoreless innings. That performance means Price will be a big part of Boston’s bullpen as they prepare to take on the Houston Astros in the American League Division Series starting this week.
While Price was haunted by injuries this season, he was also dogged by a number of off-field controversies, such as his spats with the Boston media and a heated feud with Hall of Fame pitcher and current Red Sox broadcaster Dennis Eckersley.
“It’s been a challenging year for him, by his own admission,” said Red Sox manager John Farrell, according to Scott Lauber of ESPN. “You know what? He’s a talented pitcher, and we’re using him at the right time.”
While using a starter out of the bullpen in the postseason isn’t a new practice, it’s significantly less common to see a pitcher of Price’s status relegated to relief duty. What’s more, besides Chris Sale and Drew Pomeranz, the Red Sox’s rotation hasn’t been very impressive this year.
But despite the strange optics — as well as Price’s preference to start — the Tennessee native is well-suited to a bullpen role. His arm tends to recover quickly, making him the perfect candidate to make frequent appearances this postseason.
“I’ve always been a guy who hasn’t had [next-day] soreness,” Price said in September, according to Dave Sheinin of The Washington Post. “I’ve never had problems with my arm. When I pitch, the next day, I feel like I can pitch that day. I’ve always told my managers that. When I see them the next day, I’m like, ‘I’m good.’ This is still a trial-and-error process, too. We don’t know how it’s going to respond, but when I woke up this morning I felt good.”
Add it all up, and Price could be the Red Sox’s secret weapon this postseason. Relief pitching takes on outsized importance in the playoffs, when extra rest days mean that managers can use their top arms repeatedly with less fear of burnout. If he really is as durable as he says he is, Price could propel Boston to the Fall Classic.
“I know he gets scrutinised at times, but he really stepped up for us here down the stretch,” team president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said. “I’m glad he’s healthy because when you have him healthy, he’s one of the best pitchers in baseball.”
The Red Sox and Astros will kick off their best-of-five series on Thursday.
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