LAKELAND, Fla. -- He has already won a Cy Young award, been the first overall pick in the 2007 draft, and led the league in ERA and strikeouts. But this winter, David Price went searching for a way to get even better.
The place he went hunting? That comfort zone where his curveball used to reside.
As recently as 2012, according to TruMedia, opponents hit .153/.194/.173/.367 against Price's curveball, with 45 strikeouts and zero home runs. But over the last two seasons, Price began to lose his feel for the pitch, allowing nine homers and a .720 OPS that was nearly double the 2012 opponent OPS against his curve. So it's no wonder that, according to Pitch f/x, Price's curveball usage dropped to a career-low 5.6 percent in 2014, down from 11.5 percent the year before.
Now he's aiming to get that pitch back to where it was.
"I know he worked on his curveball over the winter," said Tigers pitching coach Jeff Jones. "I feel it's improved. And I know he's really comfortable with it.
"It's something we had talked a little bit about last year," said Jones, who had only two months to work with Price last season after the left-hander was traded from Tampa Bay at the deadline. "And I think David knew he wanted to use his curveball more. He didn't use it as much last year as he had in the past. So I know he wanted to work on it. I've seen him throw a few this spring, and it's really good."
Price tried to fix the curve by altering his grip slightly. And so far at least, it's given him the ability not just to command it but to throw it at varying speeds -- which fits right into Price's larger quest to make himself a more complete pitcher. Other than his curveball issues, he says he felt as if he made his biggest strides yet in that department last season, even though his fastball velocity slipped from 95.5 miles per hour in 2012 to 93.3, according to Pitch f/x.
“I was fine with the way I threw the ball last year," Price said. "I felt like I turned into more of a pitcher. And I feel like I had taken those steps in 2011, '12, '13. I feel like every year I've progressed, in being a better pitcher. Not saying I was just a thrower before. But I definitely got it.
"I understood it when I was out there on the mound, what I needed to do: attacking different hitters and changing speeds, being able to do stuff that way. Trying to get that ground ball when I needed that ground ball. And just understanding different situations on the mound. I feel like I've taken big steps in all those categories. And it makes pitching so much easier."
Price actually got off to the slowest start of his career last year, and had an ERA as high as 4.42 in the last week of May. But in his final 11 starts before the Rays traded him, he went 7-4 with a 1.98 ERA, 99 strikeouts and just 67 hits allowed in 86.1 innings.
“That stretch I had last year was the easiest pitching had ever come to me," he said. "I felt like it was the most dominant I had ever been on the mound. I wasn't throwing 95, 96, 97 [mph] like I was in 2012. But I learned how to pitch. And that's something everybody is going to go through in their career. Nobody is going to stay that flamethrower for the duration of their career. If they do, they won't have a very long career. So I feel like that was a very good period for me to go through, to make sure I could adjust on the fly."
And now, as Price heads into his first full season as a Tiger (and last before he hits free agency), he's trying to adjust yet again.
"That's a quality of the great pitchers," Jones said. "They're never complacent with what they have. They're always trying to get better. And I think David definitely falls in that category. I know time will tell, but I think David's going to have a great year."