David Price shows an 'uncharacteristic' lack of command in latest start

BOSTON -- David Price was out of control once again Tuesday night, just not in the way that you might have guessed.

No, Price didn't punctuate his first Fenway Park start this season by shouting expletives at any reporters, as he did last week in New York. He was perfectly professional, actually, after the Boston Red Sox's 4-3 victory in 12 innings over the Philadelphia Phillies, giving thoughtful answers to postgame questions and even wishing WBZ Radio's Jonny Miller a happy birthday.

But it was Price's performance on the mound that tended toward the erratic. For the second consecutive start, he issued four walks, a lack of command that both he and manager John Farrell described as "uncharacteristic." Price walked the leadoff batter in the second, third and fourth innings, at times fighting inconsistencies in his delivery. He expended 32 pitches in the second inning, 24 in the third and 103 overall to complete only six innings against the worst team in baseball.

Make no mistake: Price was far better than last Thursday night, when the New York Yankees rocked him for six runs in five innings. But he also wasn't nearly as sharp as June 3 in Baltimore, when he gave up one run in seven innings against the Orioles.

This start ranked somewhere in between, which is exactly where Price seems to be four starts since his return from a spring training elbow injury.

"I expect to go out there and dominate, to be honest," Price said. "I don't expect anything less. It doesn't matter how I feel or what's going on, or whatever the circumstances may be. I expect to dominate every fifth day. My mindset has not been altered with the injury or anything else. I expect to go out there and to dominate whoever I'm pitching against."

Spoken like a longtime top-of-the-rotation pitcher and former Cy Young Award winner.

And if there's one thing that has defined Price over the years, it's his pinpoint command. Of the 115 pitchers who have worked at least 800 innings since he made his major league debut in 2008, Price is one of only 11 who have thrown at least 67 percent of their pitches for strikes.

In four starts, Price's strike percentage has slipped to 63.58 percent. He has walked 11 batters in 23 innings, a ratio of 4.3 walks per nine innings. Entering this season, Price's career average was 2.3 walks per nine innings.

There might be several reasons for the imprecise command. It could be as simple as rust. Price threw several simulated games but made only two minor league rehab starts before his season debut on Memorial Day in Chicago. In terms of time on the mound in actual game conditions, his first few starts of the season have been akin to his last few starts of a normal spring training.

Price also developed a blister on his left ring finger during last week's start in New York and was unable to throw his normal between-starts bullpen session, according to Farrell. There were times against the Phillies when Price glanced at his finger, but he predictably said it didn't affect him.

And then there were the mechanical glitches that he dealt with Tuesday night. After the third inning, Price said pitching coach Carl Willis pointed out that he was pausing at the top of his leg kick, which caused his arm to "kind of lag behind and not be able to get on top of the baseball."

"After that, I got back to throwing the baseball like I expect to throw it," said Price, who retired seven batters in a row between Maikel Franco's leadoff walk in the fourth inning and Tommy Joseph's one-out single in the sixth. "That's what I expect to do. I expect to build on that and I'll be ready for my next start."

Said Farrell: "In the second and third innings, where he didn't have the consistent command, I felt like there was a tempo issue in his delivery that he sped up or quickened a bit. Fourth, fifth and sixth, he was a little bit more sharp, better action to all his stuff, better location to all his stuff."

Price, nevertheless, gave away a 2-0 lead when he allowed Aaron Altherr's two-run homer in the third inning and a 3-2 lead on back-to-back singles in the sixth. But he wasn't booed as he came off the mound after the sixth inning. Consider it a one-start grace period from Red Sox fans who hadn't seen him pitch at Fenway since the end of last season.

With the Red Sox heading out of town, Price's next start is scheduled for Sunday night in Houston, where he will have a chance to work out his control problems.

So, what can we conclude about Price four starts into his season?

"That I'm healthy," he said. "That was in my mind, for sure, until probably after that first start in Chicago."

Now that Price is over that initial hurdle, it's time for him to get locked in and pitch like the ace he has always been.